Writer's Blocks: The Ben/Dak Parallel, Zeke After Contact, Draft Success; More

FRISCO, Texas – It's a reasonable guess that if you have a pulse, you have an opinion about the Presidential election.

It's a certainty that I don't want to hear it, one way or the other.

But consider this fact. Regardless of your affiliation or your beliefs, you stopped by DallasCowboys.com today to get the latest news about your favorite team. Across the globe, people from startlingly different walks of life are unified by football.

No other team in the NFL exemplifies that better than the Dallas Cowboys. Every week, I see y'all's unbridled enthusiasm, be it online, in Texas, in Seattle, in Cleveland, wherever. Name a far-flung corner of this country – or of the world, for that matter – and you can find Cowboys support there.

It's encouraging to think that, even in times of extreme divisiveness, there are things that can bind all of us together. Sunday afternoon, millions of supposedly opposed people -- liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, meat eaters and vegans – are going to come together and cheer for the Cowboys to get an eight-straight win in Pittsburgh.

Even Cowboys fans and Eagles fans can agree on one thing: that football is awesome – even if they come down on different sides of every other issue.

So don't despair, America. We still have football. We gon' be alright.

Here's some other stuff I'm thinking about heading into this road trip to Pittsburgh:

1.You can tell the age of any NFL fan by the teams they associate with success.

I suspect a large portion of you came up in the 80s and 90s, and the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers conjure up very special, specific images in your minds. Older folks can remember back further, when Dallas earned its "America's Team" moniker and the Steelers ruled the league.

For those of us that are younger, the New England Patriots have been the gold standard for the majority of our lives. Tom Brady won his first Super Bowl when I was just 13 years old, and I'm going to turn 28 in a few weeks. That's insane.

2.So imagine my amazement when I glanced at the NFL's various power rankings this week and assumed it was the 1970s.

Seriously, take a look around. The Oakland Raiders are one of the hottest teams in the NFL, with a 7-2 record heading into their bye week. They're locked in a fierce division race with the Kansas City Chiefs, who are also 7-2.

Across the way, in the NFC, the Dallas Cowboys have surged to 7-1 and are preparing for a big-time showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Obviously, some of the old mainstays are still around. The reliable Patriots still sit atop the AFC standings, and the Denver Broncos are kicking around.

Who else is hanging around the playoff picture, though? How about the Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings?

Some of these franchises haven't enjoyed success in quite some time. I guess I just think it's cool to see some changing of the guard. Don't let New England have all the fun.

3.If you haven't already, you're sure to hear talk of the last time a team made a deep postseason run with a rookie at quarterback – the Ben Roethlisberger-led Steelers of 2004.

The circumstances are similar, if not exactly identical. Pittsburgh drafted Roethlisberger No. 11 overall to be the long-term answer at quarterback. He was thrust into the starting role when Tommy Maddox was injured in Week 2, and he posted an amazing 13-0 record as a starter en route to a 15-1 overall mark.

Behind solid play from Roethlisberger and a ferocious defense, the Steelers downed the Jets in the playoffs and hosted the AFC title game, where they were ultimately defeated by New England.

4.That leads to another talking point, about the 2016 Dallas Cowboys – just how far can they go? The Steelers fell one win short of the Super Bowl in Roethlisberger's rookie year. The same thing happened to Seattle in 2012 when Russell Wilson was in his first season.

Through his first eight games in 2004, Roethlisberger was completing an average of 67 percent of his passes for 177 yards per game, with an average quarterback rating of 101.5. He had thrown 10 touchdowns to four interceptions to this point.

Dak's numbers are eerily similar to this point. Through eight games he's completing an average of 66 percent for 253 yards per game. His average rating is a slightly better 108.5, and he's thrown 12 touchdowns to just two picks.

Point being: both guys were good at limiting their mistakes and taking what was given to them.

I think Dak has been the more explosive of the two players – especially when you remember his 125 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, which Big Ben didn't provide.

Having said that, Roethlisberger had the benefit of the best defense in the league in both yards per game and scoring. The 2004 Steelers surrendered 258 yards and 16 points per game. The 2016 Cowboys have been solid, but they aren't quite on that level.

I don't really know where I'm trying to go with this – except to say that it's a tall order to ask playoff success of a rookie quarterback.

5.Ronald Leary left last week's game against the Browns with a head injury in the fourth quarter, and he didn't return.

After the game, Jerry Jones spoke to reporters – as is his weekly custom. It's fairly common for Jones to give out injury updates during these press sessions, so I figured I'd ask him about Leary and whether he'd heard an update about the situation.

It turns out he didn't have any information about the injury, but he did offer up a startlingly candid quote about Leary's performance this season, rising from an unhappy backup to the starting left guard spot.

"He would win my award for Attitude of the Year, because it was a disappointing thing for him," Jones said. "He knew he was a starter in this league, and he wasn't starting in the last year of his contract. And, I mean he came to work like a pro and he handled it like a pro. I'm on the top of his list, whether he's asking to play football or get a job, for the rest of his life."

Leary sat out of the voluntary portion of the offseason program because he was unhappy with his contract situation. Once it became mandatory, though, he showed up and went to work. The Cowboys fended off trade offers for his services, and they were rewarded for their patience when La'el Collins was lost with an injury.

Now Leary is helping the Cowboys, and he's in line for a nice payday when the season ends. There's no amazing revelation here, it's just nice when things work out well for both parties. And it was nice of Jones to acknowledge that fact.

6.It's easy to look at Ezekiel Elliott's stat line against the Browns and be slightly underwhelmed. He was going against the No. 31 rush defense in the league, and he managed just 96 yards on 18 carries. It didn't look like the dominating effort we've become accustomed to.

I'd encourage you to look closer, though. If you weren't paying attention, Elliott literally punished the Browns on every single carry of his afternoon.

Of Elliott's 96 yards, 53 came after contact. He broke at least one tackle on 12 of 18 of his runs. And on virtually every carry, he forced the Browns to take him down with multiple tacklers.

It's that kind of physicality that breaks a defense's spirit over time – particularly when the opposing offense is scoring almost at will.

My favorite stats: as you saw, Elliott embarrassed defenders on both of his touchdown runs. On his first score of the afternoon, the initial contact came at the 4-yard line. On his second score, he made first contact at the 10-yard line.

Fourteen total yards after contact on two separate touchdown runs. That's downright demoralizing.

7.We've been talking all season about the Cowboys' success drafting in the first round all season, and rightfully so. Going back to Dez Bryant in 2010, all of the team's last seven first-round picks are contributing in a big way.

But for as much as we might dog the Cowboys' drafting in the later rounds, take a look around the roster this season.

Are you aware that, of the 22 starters on this team right now, 20 of them are homegrown guys? Terrell McClain and Brandon Carr, both added in free agency, are the only outliers. Of the 44 players on the two-deep, only nine come from outside the organization.

The first-round picks are delivering. The undrafted free agents – guys like Cole Beasley, Dan Bailey, Ron Leary and Lucky Whitehead – are doing great. Yes, this team deserves some criticism for its history of second-round drafting.

But, again: take a look around. Anthony Hitchens and his 34 tackles, fourth-round pick. Geoff Swaim, who has been an underrated asset as a receiver and a blocker, seventh-round pick. Orlando Scandrick, fifth-round pick. Terrance Williams and Jason Witten, third-round picks.

There's always room for improvement, but it's hard to hate too hard on the draft process in the past few years.

8.My picks were awesome last week. I am also awesome. Let's keep this gravy train rolling. I went 10-3 last week, and I'm thinking I can improve this time around:

BALTIMORE over Cleveland

Green Bay over TENNESSEE
WASHINGTON over Minnesota
TAMPA BAY over Chicago
Kansas City over CAROLINA
NEW YORK JETS over Los Angeles
Denver over NEW ORLEANS
SAN DIEGO over Miami
ARIZONA over San Francisco
NEW ENGLAND over Seattle

NEW YORK GIANTS over Cincinnati


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