Four wins, zero losses. Nearly 38 points per game. A rising star at QB, a current star at wideout, and a Head Coach that is a perfect fit for the defense. Oh, right - there's also an owner with an insatiable thirst to win as he did nearly a decade and a half ago. Despite their opponents' win-loss record (3-13), make no mistake about it: the Dallas Cowboys are back among the NFL's elite franchises.
Think that will intimidate the young, inexperienced and one-win Buffalo Bills? Not a chance. Buffalo has an uphill climb in this contest, to be sure, but a home crowd on Monday Night means that anything can happen. But a home-field advantage and a little momentum won't make up for the matchup difficulties the Cowboys present: this team, in reality, has very few weaknesses.
Offense: Points, Points, Points Galore
Romo developing into a star: Dallas has a sound running attack and some big-play weapons, but the offense starts with Tony Romo. With elite statistics (1,199 yards, 11 TD, 3 INT, 112.9 QB rating, 2 rush TD), Romo has a flair for the big play, excellent awareness in the pocket and enough mobility to keep defenses incredibly honest. His one weakness remains the same as last season: he still has the propensity to throw a bad pass or two per game. As Grizz from Blogging the Boys mentioned in yesterday's interview, however, Romo has gotten much better with ball security this season. He's flawed, but the Cowboys are playing so well that those flaws have been completely masked to date - and the flaws are not huge ones as it is.
It's Not Just the T.O. Show: Terrell Owens remains an elite target league-wide (19 catches, 362 yards, 3 TD), but his success has hinged directly on the excellent play from the Cowboys' other offensive weapons. TE Jason Witten is on his way to a Pro Bowl season, amassing 304 yards and 3 touchdowns already this season. Patrick Crayton has filled in admirably for the injured Terry Glenn, picking up 184 yards and two scores last week as the St. Louis Rams limited Owens to just three grabs. These guys are good, and they make Romo look good as well. All of them are big-play threats, and they'll need to be contained come Monday Night.
The Perfect Closer: Dallas still operates with a two-back set, but Julius Jones is merely the "starter" - it's been the Marion Barber III show this season. Barber is currently averaging 6.4 yards per carry, and has proven himself as a nice dump-down target for Romo as well. When the Cowboys build up a big lead - it's happened often this season - the ball goes to Barber, and he runs behind Dallas' monstrous O-Line (average weight: 324). With his hard-nosed running style, it's been a very effective way for the Cowboys to ice games with ease.
Defense: Talk about a Cake Job
Missing Jason Ferguson: While they haven't exactly faced the league's most explosive offenses thus far (that comes next week), the Cowboys defense has been stellar enough to allow Dallas to close games early. Their job is certainly made easier by the offense, but once again, there are flaws. The team is missing nose tackle Jason Ferguson, who is out for the season; his replacement, Jay Ratliff, is not quite the anchor to the 3-4 as his predecessor. The front three of the Cowboys have been merely average to this point; if the Bills run often, they should hit the second level a fair amount of the time.
Impressive Package at LB: Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware is one of the elite 3-4 pass rushers in the NFL, and he's the heart and soul of the Cowboys' defensive attack. With a rookie under center for the Bills in Trent Edwards, look for Wade Phillips to move Ware around and stunt him on blitzes to keep the Bills' O-Line guessing. The rest of the Cowboys linebackers are superb as well - they stuff the run well, and with Greg Ellis back from injury, they're deep, versatile and explosive. This unit is clearly the strength of Phillips' defense.
Room for Big Plays?: Anchored by strong safety Roy Williams - a perpetual liability in coverage - the Cowboys' secondary has always been susceptible to big plays. They've improved at free safety with the addition of Ken Hamlin, and Terence Newman is fully healthy as well. But this is still the weak point of the defense - especially since starting corner Anthony Henry is scheduled to miss this game. He'll be replaced by Jacques Reeves; look for the Bills to pick on Reeves early and often with the combination of Lee Evans, Josh Reed, Roscoe Parrish and possibly even Marshawn Lynch. Any of those four targets have the ability to burn Reeves one-on-one.
Special Teams: The Weakest Link
Trouble with Dante Hall: One player was able to get the better of Dallas in last week's matchup with the Rams, and it was return man Dante Hall. His 85-yard punt return for a score was the Rams' only points of the game; he also ripped off an average of 30 yards per kick return. Dallas' coverage units have struggled, so there is a great chance for some big plays from Terrence McGee and Roscoe Parrish. Rest assured that the Cowboys are aware of the Bills' explosive return men; it may not do them any good, however.
Pick-a-Punter: It may seem trivial, but the punting matchup of Buffalo's Brian Moorman and Dallas' Mat McBriar truly is a matchup of the league's best punters. Make no mistake: Moorman is the superior. Their career averages are similar (McBriar 44.1, Moorman 43.5), and each averages about 19 punts downed inside the 20 per season. McBriar's career long punt of 75 yards (2006) is nearly as impressive as Moorman's career long of 84 (2002; he also had an 80-yarder in '04). What sets Moorman apart? His longevity and his ability to match McBriar stat-for-stat despite kicking in Buffalo. McBriar is a stud, to be sure, but he is still merely the apprentice. The NFL's best punter resides in Buffalo, folks.