If We Just Must Assess

shown dramatic improvement against the run. And as a pass rusher, don't judge him solely by his numbers. Sure he has four sacks in eight games, on pace for an eight-sack season. But his pass-rushing ability has made a dramatic effect on Greg Ellis' production. That teams are so Ware conscious on one side, since he also has nine quarterback pressures, has freed up Ellis for more one-on-one opportunities on the other. Result: The two guys have nine sacks in eight games, Ellis leading the club with five and 15 quarterback pressures. Consider this halfway worn.   

4. The Newest Q-Factor: The point here was, Keyshawn Johnson and Terry Glenn would be fine as the team's one-two-punch at receiver, and that Jason Witten would cause problems for defenses at tight end. But the Cowboys would need a third receiver to step up - not only for nickel situations but in case of injury. At the time, that guy seemingly had to be Quincy Morgan. Well, not. Patrick Crayton became that much-needed third receiver, beating out Morgan, who eventually was traded. But the Cowboys were so set at third receiver with Crayton that not until he went down with the ankle injury two weeks ago did veteran Peerless Price get much of a chance to play. Nevertheless, the third receiver has 20 catches, and that position has become a strength, providing Price can step up in Crayton's absence.   

5. Henson Or Not: Missed here . . . so far. Thought second-year quarterback Drew Henson just had to be ready this year, finding it implausible the Cowboys could go through a third consecutive season with the starting quarterback starting at least 15 games as they had the previous two seasons. Well, Drew Bledsoe still is standing, and the backups haven't even taken one snap, not even in mop-up duty. And, on top of that, it doesn't appear Henson would be the guy if one was needed since Tony Romo surprised a lot of people during camp and preseason games to win the backup job. Now you might not want to even think about "what if" here, because Romo, now the backup, still hasn't taken a snap in a regular-season NFL game. OK, so now this burden falls on Romo, but it's still a burden.   

6. Let's Go, James: Thought that if the Cowboys were going to have a chance of making a successful conversion to the 3-4, third-year linebacker Bradie James would have to become a player at one of the inside spots. He has. And even more than that, he's been able to assume a leadership role on the field these past four games with Dat Nguyen missing three because of injury. James is tied for the team lead with 42 tackles, and has improved significantly, especially in coverage. Even has three passes broken up and has chipped in 1½ sacks. Turning into a well-rounded inside linebacker, he's goes.   

7. Safety Man: This is where Keith Davis had to step in, and he did early, to the point of the Cowboys releasing two other starting free safety candidates before the season began, Izell Reese and Lynn Scott, who was just re-signed for depth and special teams purposes because of Willie Pile's strained groin. Davis hasn't been like great, but you know what, he hasn't been bad, either. His play hasn't hurt the pass coverage, and if you have been noticing, he seems to be flashing into more and more plays the past couple of games. Unlike a year ago, this safety spot hasn't killed the Cowboys, and they've even gotten some nickel mileage out of Pile.    

8. Jones & Co.?: Somewhat of a shocker here that not only did the Cowboys find some help for starting running back Julius Jones, they found two guys, and one capable of even starting in a pinch, and he wasn't named Anthony Thomas or Eric Bickerstaff. That Company now is Marion Barber and Tyson Thompson, two rookies Parcells trusts enough now to not only release Thomas this week, but also say he would have released the veteran backup even if he did not think Jones would be ready to play against the Eagles next Monday night, as he indeed does. Barber has shown his stuff the past two games, going for 95 yards and 127 yards. And Thompson, in small doses, has been very productive in the backfield, and according to Parcells, is doing a "fabulous job on kick-off returns." In fact, Parcells went as far as saying of his

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outside linebacker on this team.    Parcells was right on Monday: Monday's indeed are a bad day to talk to an NFL head coach. His rather sour mood that day had changed to pretty sweet three days later, seemingly feeling much better about his 5-3 team on Thursday than he did following the Arizona victory.     Parcells' answer to why he decided the Cowboys could exist without Anthony Thomas was telling, but also a reconfirmation of the hard double he's trying to pull of this season by developing young players, yet still winning: "At this point in time, that would stop progress, and I didn't want to do that," he said of keeping Thomas. Stopping progress to him would have been giving snaps to Thomas, a stop-gap, instead of Barber and Thompson, the future.      And the first-half awards: Biggest surprise goes to Bledsoe. Who knew? Biggest disappointment has to be losing to Washington after holding a 13-0 lead with five minutes to play. Top newcomer has to be Anthony Henry. Coming out of nowhere goes to Tyson Thompson. Watch out for over the second half of the season goes to Marcus Spears, who the past two weeks has shown why he was a first-round pick. And if you just have to have a team grade for the first half of the season, then put me down for a solid B, leaving plenty of wiggle room for second-half improvement.                                                                                                                                                                                   

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