"Truthfully, before the season even started, we felt different, The biggest thing is, we stay together, we play together. We're more of a family. We respect one another and we try to bring out the best in each other. That's the difference."--Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys' wide receiver, who scored three touchdowns and 114 yards on six receptions against the Eagles in Philadelphia.
After three consecutive mediocre, non-playoff 8-8 seasons (and much criticism from fans and the media), the Dallas Cowboys are back on top of the NFC East after defeating the Philadelphia Eagles this past Sunday night. The Cowboys are 10-4 and in solid playoff contention with two regular season games to go.
What are the keys to the Cowboys success this season?
1. Making solid personnel decisions based on football needs rather than marketing needs.
The Cowboys came very close to drafting Johnny Manziel this off-season. While Manziel could still develop into an excellent NFL quarterback, the Cowboys resisted that splashy, sexy move. The drafting of Manziel would have created a media circus and disrupted a team that needed a quiet, focused off-season to prepare for 2014. The move would also have created the quarterback controversy that has plagued the Cleveland Browns, who did draft Manziel, the entire season.
Instead, the Cowboys have found talent in unexpected places. The Cowboys' quarterback, Tony Romo, was an undrafted rookie, when he signed with them. DeMarco Murray, the NFL's leading rusher this season, was drafted in the third round out of Oklahoma. Jason Witten, their veteran tight end, was also drafted in the third round out of Tennessee.
The Cowboys also stayed true to their long-term strategy of building a strong offensive line to take advantage of their talented skill position players. Rather than focusing on getting more star players, they continued to draft and sign quality linemen to protect Romo and open holes for their running backs.
2. Learning the lesson of continuity and patience.
The Cowboys resisted the temptation of making wholesale changes to pacify frustrated fans. They stuck with Jason Garrett as their head coach. There are not many teams that would have shown the patience, confidence and loyalty to their head coach that the current regime in Dallas did. This patience is paying dividends this season and, probably, beyond.
The Cowboys have also stuck with their talented but aging stars like Romo and Witten. Romo is one of the most criticized and polarizing players in the NFL. Romo has been criticized and questioned for his talent as well as his ability to deal with pressure situations for years, yet the Cowboys have always had extreme confidence in his play and his leadership, as well as his mental toughness. Witten, always a solid citizen in the locker room, continues to prove his NFL Hall of Fame credentials with his blocking and pass catching.
Despite off-field problems early in his career, Bryant has also matured and the Cowboys have stuck with him as well. His performance this year as been crucial to their success.
There is much football yet to be played this season, but the Dallas Cowboys are in the thick of things due to their maturity, patience, and sound decision-making at the top.
For more on Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys, get the book: Razor Thin: The Difference Between Winning and Losing.