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Measuring Up Against The Best

make during the week," says Spears. "You start with a great concept and then maybe you add a wrinkle or two. In a game like this you must really be technique-sound." 

And must more people step up and, in the vernacular, make plays? Must there be more like Anthony Henry's outstanding second interception last week or Roy Williams' clutch third-down tackle of a running back from his dime linebacker spo, or Jay Ratliff's hustling fumble recovery? 

"You make 'em when they come to you," Spears suggests. "This team tries to be balanced when it runs and just overpower you." 

This, then might be a game for us old-schoolers. 

The other thing that jumps off that initial list of last year's big scoring teams is that Dallas was there then and is there now. Maybe the Cowboys are just that good. 

Again, not that good, not 40-a-game good. But linebacker Kevin Burnett, asked if the defense might have to carry the day this week, cocks his head to the side and arches his eyebrows and says, "Well actually, I think our offense can score against anybody." 

As impressive as Dallas' offense has been, it's not like last year's was chopped liver. Tony Sparano, the offensive line coach who called the plays last year, did a tremendous job, especially considering the problems with injuries to Marco Rivera and Terrell Owens. And the fact that the offense was just different before the quarterback change. 

It wasn't bad. It was just different, and here's a number that speaks to Burnett's contention. In the first two games last year on third down, Dallas needed an average of 8.2 yards. They converted 12 of 31, or 39 per cent. Not bad. 

This year through two games, the Cowboys' third-down need is an average of 8.4. They're converting 11-25, 44 percent. That's exceptional. (That tidbit comes from Cowboys Radio Network statistician Bob Thomas. Tip of the cap.) 

The difference, frankly, is Romo. He made an immediate difference on third-and-long conversions when he came in last year with his maneuverability. He is clearly a better quarterback with the experience he's had. His offensive line is better. They miss Terry Glenn, no question. But the rest of it is pretty good. Add Garrett's touches (and the fact there is no head coach restraining him as Sparano may have been restrained) and you have a Dallas offensive team that reasonably seems to be better than last year's. And last year's was fourth in scoring. 

While the Bears' offense is pretty much the same cast, their vaunted defense has begun to be depleted from last year's NFC champions. No Mike Brown, no Dusty Dvoracek, no Tank Johnson. They are still exceptional. They impose their will on a game, and that is something the Dallas defense has not yet been able to do. They have outstanding special teams, and Dallas' will be challenged to measure up this week.  

This will be a difficult game for Dallas to win, especially in Chicago. But perhaps the premise from which we started is faulty. 

Maybe it's not whether the Dallas defense can win the game. Maybe it's how much closer the Chicago team and the Dallas team are to each other than a year ago. 

It's all still a work in progress. But it should be interesting to see just how much progress is really being made.   

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