We've reached the halfway point of the season, which means it is time to look back at what's gone down and look ahead at what the Cowboys need to do to make the leap from 4-4 to the playoffs.
MVP: DeMarcus Ware had set a very high bar for himself coming into the season and he has somehow surpassed it through the first eight weeks of the season. If you were to hand out a Defensive Player of the Year award at this point of the season, Ware is one of the only names (Darrelle Revis, Jared Allen and Terrell Suggs would be the other top contenders) who makes a reasonable choice. He might even make a run at the all-time sacks record before all is said and done, which is impressive since he won't have Brett Favre laying down to help him get it.
Breakout Player: It's gotta be DeMarco Murray, right? His last three games have been as good as any turned in by a rookie running back. Some of the comparisons are a bit out of hand given the small sample size, but it is clear that Jerry Jones finally struck some draft gold.
Most Improved: Sean Lee's season is in some doubt thanks to his wrist injury, but his play in the opening weeks was one of the things that kept the Cowboys season from melting down. If he is out for an extended period of time, it is going to be much harder for Dallas to make something out of the second half.
Biggest Disappointment: When the Cowboys signed Doug Free to a long-term deal, it looked like they were securing the future of a promising young player. Through the first eight weeks, though, Free looks like a placeholder until Tyron Smith moves to the other side of the line. The best hope for the Cowboys is that his struggles have been caused in some part by the upheaval on the rest of the line, because the alternative is another contract albatross.
Best Game: If the Cowboys make the season, the 24-21 comeback win over the 49ers will be the turning point of the season. A loss there would have just about sunk the ship before it really got sailing. It also showed that Tony Romo is a quarterback capable of leading a team.
Worst Game: The flip side of that is what went down in Detroit in Week Four. Blowing a 24 point lead in the 34-30 loss to the Lions was horrifying to watch and the best illustration yet of why Romo terrifies so many people. The loss to the Eagles was a bigger blowout, but the Lions game was a much better example of the team's vulnerabilities.
Unsung Hero: This stat comes via Bob Sturm - The Cowboys have averaged 7.9 yards on running plays under center when fullback Tony Fiammetta is on the field. The team would still benefit from giving Romo more rope but numbers like that reveal the benefits of keeping things vanilla now and then.
Biggest Questions: Can the Cowboys survive Miles Austin's absence? The Lee injury is bad, but losing Austin and the options he provides the offense could be even worse if it leads to a more predictable offense in the weeks to come. Dez Bryant hasn't proven he can carry the load of a top wideout, but he'll need to if Austin is really going to be out for another month.
What's wrong with the run defense? The Cowboys schedule is forgiving the rest of the way, but it will look a lot less so if they keep getting gashed on the ground the way they have the last two weeks. Rob Ryan needs to adjust to a league that's clearly adjusted to him.
Is Romo consistent enough to lead this team back to the playoffs? We'll certainly find out, but you can bet that there will be talk about making a change if this team falls short because Romo plays erratically down the stretch.