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Midseason Report: Evaluating Highs/Lows At Halfway Point


IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys are halfway through the season and what do you know … they're halfway to the record they've had for two seasons now. [embedded_ad]

It's been an 8-8 franchise in 2011 and 2012, and so far, 2013 is shaping up the same. Not only are the Cowboys 4-4, but they've been 1-1, 2-2 and 3-3 before Sunday's heartbreaking loss in Detroit dropped them back to the .500 point once again.

So for the third straight year, it's shaping up like it will go down to the wire. The Cowboys have lost the season finale the last two years with a shot to win the NFC East. They currently lead the division by a game, but certainly a lot can and will happen over the final two months.

Before we focus on the second half of the season, the writers of will look back at the first half, giving their thoughts on the highs and lows of the first eight games.

* *

Best Moment

Nick:Beating Washington was something the Cowboys couldn't do last year. Doesn't matter if the 'Skins are down, it was a big boost. So Dwayne Harris' 86-yard punt return to lift the Cowboys was a dazzling play for a team struggling on offense that day.

Rowan:Holding the Eagles to three points takes this one. Nick Foles was coming off NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. The Cowboys' defense, including its band of no-namers on the line, had just held the Redskins' offense in check. They again had the answer in a huge division test. 

Bryan:The Kyle Wilber sack and strip of Robert Griffin III in the Washington game. Wilber was in the game playing for the injured DeMarcus Ware and came up with the play of the game, beating Trent Williams around the corner. It led to the clinching touchdown for the Cowboys.

David:The second half of the Denver loss produced some of the most entertaining football I've ever seen. What a highlight reel of great plays, gritty drives and memorable moments. It's a shame it ended the way it did, but it was the most fun I've had watching this team so far.

Worst Moment

Nick:There have been tough moments, but watching Peyton Manning and the Broncos hold onto the ball and knowing they were smart enough to drain the entire clock and kick a field goal was a helpless moment. The Cowboys played so well but came up short.

Rowan:It just happened. The ending to the Lions' game was as demoralizing as it gets, holding the lead throughout the fourth quarter until 12 seconds left in the game after an 80-play drive in 50 seconds by Detroit. The late Broncos loss hurt, but this one seemed to be wrapped up. 

Bryan:The "Dagger Pass" from Matthew Stafford to Kris Durham in the Lions game for 40 yards. Stafford makes a heck of a throw to get that ball in between Jakar Hamilton and Orlando Scandrick. Huge play that put them in position for the go ahead touchdown two plays later.

David:I knew when the Cowboys kicked the field goal and gave the ball back to Detroit, leading 30-24, that they would lose the game. The way Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson had played to that point, it's just seemed like a foregone conclusion. Sure enough, it was.

* *

Biggest Surprise

Nick:On a positive note, how can anyone not be stunned that George Selvie and Nick Hayden are not only on this team, or starting, but playing well? No one knew these two guys and now they're backbones of this defense. Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli deserves a lot of credit for their success.

Rowan:I'm tempted to go with Jason Hatcher or George Selvie, but I think it's Terrance Williams. The rookie's still got a four-game scoring streak going, and I'm amazed at how far he's come from training camp. He looks like a completely different player since his fumble in Week 4. * *

Bryan:The overall contribution of this 2013 Cowboys draft class. Through eight games this season, there has not been a game where one of these rookies has not made a play or two that has not got them noticed. From the first selection of Travis Frederick to DeVonte Holloman, it's been a solid class.

David:Based on his quiet preseason and his minimal impact to start the year, I thought Terrance Williams was the type of rookie who would take a year or so to get acclimated. A month later, he looks like an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate, and I look silly.

Biggest Disappointment

Nick:This could go to a player or position, but the biggest disappointment was the Cowboys getting the ball with 1:24 to play, up three in Detroit, and losing. That's how close the Cowboys were to being 5-3 and having a three-game winning streak. Instead, they're average again.

Rowan:The defensive line injuries. I've expected to see more consistent defensive performances after the coaching changes, and the amount of 400-yard passing games allowed is obscene, but I'd really like to see how this defense would have performed with a healthy DeMarcus Ware, a healthy Jay Ratliff and a healthy Anthony Spencer.

Bryan:All the injuries on the defensive line. You can say what you want about Monte Kiffin and this scheme, but when he came on board, his vision of the starting defensive line had the names of DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher, but not George Selvie and Nick Hayden.

David:The Cowboys gave savvy veteran Will Allen a chance to be a starter at safety. They drafted J.J. Wilcox, showed faith in Barry Church, and they thought they had Matt Johnson back from injury. Halfway through the season, Allen is gone and Johnson is on IR, while Church and Wilcox are battling minor injuries. The preseason depth at safety has currently been reduced to rookies and roleplayers.

Special Teams MVP

Nick:I love what Dwayne Harris has given to the return game, but the MVP is unquestionably Dan Bailey. Look at Sunday's game. The Cowboys don't worry about field position and risking long kicks because they know Bailey will make it. He's so steady, it's a weapon.

Rowan:Dwayne Harris. Dan Bailey could technically win this award every year, but Harris has been one of the league's best returners since taking on that role last season. He's in the top five in the NFL in both punt and kick return average, and teams are beginning to take notice and go away from him.

Bryan:Dan Bailey. He has become a complete kicker. Not only is he deadly accurate kicking field goals, but he also helps your kickoff coverage unit by pumping the ball out of the back of the end zone on every chance he gets. 

David:It was my intention to say Dwayne Harris,  but then I looked at Dan Bailey's stats again. He has four makes of 40 yards and four makes of 50 yards. He's only missed two kicks – one was from 56, the other came in a blowout win against St. Louis. He's been outstanding.

Defensive MVP

Nick:I seriously wondered if Jason Hatcher would be a good fit in this 4-3 scheme. Turns out he's been the best fit. Where would they be without him? Hatcher leads the team with a career-high seven sacks, as well as all NFL defensive tackles. Sean Lee is a close second, followed by Orlando Scandrick.

Rowan:I don't know that there's another answer other than Jason Hatcher. The Cowboys have needed him not only to be good but outstanding, and he's been more than that. As the lone defensive lineman projected to start at the beginning of the year, he's on pace for double digit sacks and is playing unbelievably. 

Bryan:Sean Lee. Even before the start of this season, I thought he was the best defensive player on the team and that was even with a healthy DeMarcus Ware. It's hard to imagine where this defense would be without him in the lineup. 

David:Sean Lee is tied for second in the NFL in tackles, with 81, and he's tied for first in the league in interceptions, with four. That basically says it all, as far as I'm concerned. Lee is one of maybe two guys on the defense playing Pro Bowl-level football right now.

Offensive MVP

Nick:Since the award is most valuable, it's still Tony Romo for me. The entire game always seems to fall on his shoulders – good or bad.  If it's best offensive player, then my answer is Dez. But without a running game, it always falls on Romo, who ranks fifth in NFL in rating and his 18-5 TD to INT ratio is a huge improvement. 

Rowan:Dez Bryant. Tony Romo is once again putting up phenomenal numbers and has his interception total down, but this offense only consistently scores when Bryant's doing his magic. The best play the Cowboys have near the end zone is the "Dez, go get it" fade. He's a touchdown machine.

Bryan:Dez Bryant and Tony Romo are two players that come to mind for all that they have accomplished this season, and I will acknowledge that. But Brian Waters at guard gave this team a lot of stability which also improved the play of Doug Free and helped Travis Frederick through some early growing pains.

David:I'm giving it to Dez – but mostly by default. He's on pace for 1,300 yards and 16 touchdowns, with a slew of circus catches along the way. However, he's also been shut down on more than one occasion, and he's let some big plays get away. He's a good microcosm for this offense – talented, but inconsistent. (Editor's Note: Stay tuned to the website on Thursday for Part 2 of the midseason report, featuring topics on rookies to watch, significant injuries, under-the-radar players and an overall forecast for the last eight games of the year.)

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