Spagnola: Better Enjoy These Happy Days With Cowboys Defending The Star

FRISCO, Texas – As a salute to Veteran's Day, maybe we can borrow this song title celebrating the end of World War I as the Dallas Cowboys are about to embark on the second half of this 2016 season:

         "Happy days are here again!"

         Why, the Cowboys are 7-1, in stark contrast to this time last year when the agony of 2-6 had set in.

         They are tied with New England for the best record in the NFL.

         They have a two-game lead in the NFC East over the Giants, two and a half over the Redskins and a three over the Eagles.

         They are riding an improbable seven-game winning streak into Pittsburgh this Sunday, facing the 4-4 Steelers at Heinz Field with a chance to match the franchise's longest winning streak in history, the eight-gamer to start the Super Bowl-winning 1977 season. Longest now. Longer than anything those other four Super Bowl-winning clubs strung together.

         They have spit in the face of adversity, from the season-opening suspensions to three prospective starters, to the eight-game absence of the injured Tony Romo, to overcoming the 14-point deficit on the road against the 49ers, to recovering from a 10-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter against the Eagles.

         Man, to paraphrase Talkin' Cowboys teammate Nate Newton, you ought to be sitting back and enjoying all of this while it lasts.

         So why all the constant consternation out there?

         Do not buy in to this national media-fueled bull about how Dez Bryant must be disenchanted with rookie quarterback Dak Prescott because he's not getting the ball enough, especially after the one-catch game this past Sunday in the blowout of Cleveland. Guess they'd forgotten the four-catch, 113-yard effort against Philadelphia, which included the tying touchdown reception to send the game into overtime. Or that Dez is causing locker room disruptions.

         Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, just the other day the two had this little locker room exchange I'm betting no one else picked up on, Dez answering media questions and Dak walking by, briefly catching his eye and sort of snapping his fingers, causing Dez to smile midsentence.

         Then there is this daily worry about what will happen when Romo is ready to play, which by the way we've gotten no indication he is – yet – and this fascination with just who's team it is. *Seemingly everyone is wanting the Cowboys to make a decision when in reality the decision will be made for them, and definitely not before Romo is *football ready to play again.

         Really? The beauty of what has taken place over these first nine weeks of the season is this: This has been everybody's team. Not corny. The truth. From the offensive linemen's to Sean Lee's. From Ezekiel Elliott's to Morris Claiborne's. From Cole Beasley's to Tyrone Crawford's. From Jason Witten's to fill in the name of your choice.[embeddedad0]

         Maybe everyone should take a page out of head coach Jason Garrett's philosophy on winning football: focus. Focus on today. Stay away from global views. Have a good Friday. Stack good practices on top of good practices. Can't worry about seven straight if you don't win one straight.

         You may think his words are repetitively boring, but guess what? These guys are buying in, even repeating the same. It's working.

         But if you just need something to worry about, then focus on Sunday. Focus on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Focus on why the Steelers, but .500, are 3-1 at Heinz Field this year. Focus on just why a team on a three-game losing streak has been made 2½-point favorites over the team on a seven-game winning streak.

         Focus on Ben Roethlisberger, Le'veon Bell, Antonio Brown. Now that should get your attention right there. Sure has that of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, a very respectful man.

         Of "Big Ben," Marinelli says, "He's a real warrior."

         Of Bell, he knows, "First, we've got to stop the run."

         Of Brown, he says, "They've got the ability to go deep at any moment."

         He knows his now-nicknamed "Mighty Orphans" will have their hands full come Sunday, having grabbed the name from the book titled Twelve Mighty Orphans written by Jim Dent*, *the heart-warming tale of these orphans living in the Masonic Home in Fort Worth, a bunch of rag-tag nobodies rising during the 1930s to amazing football success in the state of Texas.

         "We definitely listen to Marinelli and his stories," says defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford, "and are loving it, too."

         But just maybe the Steelers will have their hands full, too. After all, this is the NFL's 10th ranked defense (total yards) – and yes, that is not a typo – going up against the league's 12th-ranked offense. This is the league's sixth-ranked run defense against the 25th-ranked rush offense.

         Somehow, with Lee and a bunch of guys trying to make names for themselves, the Cowboys are giving up just 17.5 points per game, tied for fourth best in the NFL. One week it's David Irving. The next week it's Maliek Collins. One week it's Crawford. The next week it's Barry Church. One week it's Terrell McClain. The next it's Justin Duran. Every week it's Lee. Just can go on and on …  Claiborne, Brandon Carr, Byron Jones, Jack Crawford, Anthony Hitchens, Justin Durant, J.J. Wilcox.

         And I'm sure there are Steelers out there going, "Who are those guys?"

         Or, "How in the world are they doing this?"

         Maybe Cleveland's Terrelle Pryor has an answer for you after the Browns were limited to just 10 points and 22 yards of offense in this past Sunday's 35-10 spanking:

"What makes that team so good, whenever you catch the ball they have 11 people running at you. They have a great defense. It's not like they have any great players, but they play well together and they are all in."

And it's not just him noticing.

Here is what Ring of Honor safety Darren Woodson, a top analyst for ESPN, had to say of this collaborative defensive effort on this week's Dallas Cowboys Legends Show:

"One thing I've noticed watching this Cowboys defense is this: They're always going to play good gap responsibility defense, and that's Rod Marinelli teaching them the right thing. And they run to the ball better than any other defense."

Says this is a carryover from the defensive mentality instilled back in the day when Tampa Bay won Super Bowl XXXVII during that 2002 season, the one with Jon Gruden as head coach, Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator, Marinelli as assistant head coach/defensive line, Mike Tomlin as defensive backs, Raheem Morris as defensive quality control, and oh, Rich Bisaccia as the special teams coach. And prior to that, remember, Tony Dungy had been the head coach and Lovie Smith had been a linebackers coach with the Bucs.

"They convinced their players to get to the ball," Woodson says of that collection of defensive coaches, knowing Smith well, his linebackers coach at Arizona State. "If you don't get to the ball then when you're watching film study on Monday and if you're loafing, they're picking you out. You never want to be that guy."

Heck, film study? During training camp, if you are that guy, Marinelli blisters you right then and there, and please cover the women and children's ears watching nearby.

So Marinelli's magic rubs off on his players, too, since when asked what's been the key to this defensive resurgence, Tyrone Crawford says, "Playing fast, hard and hitting."

Yeah, all that.

And they will need even more if the Cowboys are to win their eighth straight.

Think about it, been 40 seasons since Dallas last won eight straight. Forty, now, and they are on the verge with a rookie quarterback, a rookie running back and a defense that had you pulling out the rosary beads three months ago, giving new meaning to Hail Mary.

Now who knows how long this is going to last – the winning streak, heck, the winning. Remember, the NFL is the greatest reality-TV show going. No secret script here. New episode unfolds weekly.

So enjoy the ride, and don't be worrying about all that other stuff, most of which is being fabricated from afar to create attention. As Bill would say of his players, don't be a distractable fan. These types of days don't come with a three-year guarantee. The expiration date is daily.

Have a good Veterans Day.

And enjoy when "the skies above are clear again."

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