game. Pierce, for instance, knows the specialty area is how he primarily gets onto the field. "Special teams is basically what I'm here for right now," he acknowledges. "You get four or five other plays a game, so if you're going to make an impact, special teams is it for me this year."
Those sentiments could just as easily have been expressed by Copper, Pile or cornerback Jacques Reeves, and they are four of the top five tacklers in the kicking game.
Kick-off coverage was only one area in which the Dallas special teams excelled Sunday. Patrick Crayton averaged 12 yards on his seven punt returns, almost three times his average. (Some of that is circumstance. A punt returner might go a month without as many decent opportunities as Crayton had in this game.) Jose Cortez hit all four of his field-goal tries and has now made eight in a row since his only miss against Washington. New long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur, two weeks into his Dallas tenure, seems to have settled that position down.
To gauge how the special teams improve from week to week, keep an eye on what kicking game coaches call their skill position players: The return men, the snapper, the kicker and the punter. There is still room for improvement.
Crayton has been put on notice by Parcells for the way he waves the ball around like a baton from time to time. "He's on my list this week," the head coach warned Monday. "I've seen all of this I want to see," and here Parcells imitates loosely holding a football while flapping an arm like some great one-winged bird.
Punter Mat McBriar has had his moments, but he's also shown some inconsistency. "Punters, in my experience, usually start to really get it about halfway through their second year," one veteran NFL coach said this week. McBriar is almost at that point.
But all this is to say the Cowboys' significant win over Philadelphia was notable for more than just stellar quarterbacking and aggressive defense. If the special teams play continues to be special, this club might have a chance to be what it wants to be, and they can't be great without it.