There probably isn't a person in this world who can claim they predicted the Cowboys' first half, the seven straight wins, tied for the best record in the NFL. Since we've passed the midway point, let's look at the difference makers, the surprises, the disappointments, and all that good stuff. All of these are based on the games played through Week 9.
MVP:QB Dak Prescott – Stop and think for a minute about what most valuable player to his team actually means. It's not the best, it's not the most dominant, it's not about statistics. What has really changed from a season ago, that's the question. The offensive line is more or less the same. The wide receivers and tight ends are almost exact. Yes, Ezekiel Elliott is an upgrade from Darren McFadden/Joseph Randle, but that's not why this team is doing what it is.
The only dramatic change is who replaced Tony Romo following an injury. Last year, it was Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore, combined they went 1-11, threw 11 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions. They took 27 sacks in 12 games
Prescott tossed 12 touchdowns, two picks and was sacked 11 times in eight games. He's also run for four scores. And almost immediately he gave his teammates the feeling of, yeah, we can win these games without Romo. That's an MVP. There has been no greater difference maker for the Cowboys.
Defensive Player of the First Half: LB Sean Lee – This is a tough call, the candidates being Morris Claiborne, who was headed to his first Pro Bowl before a groin injury knocked him out for at least a month, Lee and Tyrone Crawford. The latter might surprise some folks, but the defensive lineman is finally having that breakout campaign we've been waiting for. Playing 72 percent of the snaps, he leads the team with 14 hurries, 3.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries. And honestly, if he keeps playing like this, Crawford should be a first-time Pro Bowl pick.
Still, the choice here is Lee. His anticipation, knowing where the play is headed before it arrives is spellbinding to watch on film. He's everywhere, too. There have been times when he's rushed the passer and then on the very next snap he's 30 yards downfield in coverage. Sure, would love to see a few takeaways, but the guy is playing at a level few linebackers in team history have.
[embeddedad0]Biggest Surprise:S J.J. Wilcox – There are plenty of options. Prescott could easily have fit here, too, although from that first drive of the first preseason game so many of us were like, Wow, this kid can play. By the time Week 1 rolled around, it wasn't stunning. Cole Beasley is having an outstanding year and sixth-round rookie cornerback Anthony Brown has been a revelation. The kid is going to be starting in this league for a long time.
Still, Wilcox was on the brink of being released at the conclusion of the preseason. And a lot of fans and media thought he should have been. He's been stellar on special teams and every hit on defense has been with authority, including a forced fumble. In replacing Barry Church against Cleveland, he played all 57 snaps, including special teams.
Biggest Disappointment:DT Cedric Thornton – The free agent tackle had just seven solo tackles and 1.5 sacks through eight games. He also hasn't been able to crack the starting unit. The word is that Thornton has had difficulty adjusting to the scheme, but that should have worked itself out by now. This is a guy who started 45 games for the Eagles the last three seasons. And he looked in camp to be a beast, winning almost all of his one-on-one drills.
Coach of the First Half: Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli – For me, there hasn't been a head coach or assistant in the league who enjoyed a more impressive and stunning first half of the season. The Cowboys defense was thought to be among the worst in the league. And entering Week 10, they had allowed the fourth-fewest points in the NFL and the fewest rushing touchdowns, just three. They had also committed the fewest penalties of any defense in the league. The unit is also in the middle of the pack in sacks and turnovers. And there's a real chance that Lee would be the only Pro Bowl pick as of right now. Incredible stuff.
Check out Jeff Sullivan's column each week in *Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. Find out more at DallasCowboys.com/star. You can also follow Jeff on Twitter, @SullyBaldHead, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.*