Sitting at 2-3 in the NFC East, below the Washington Redskins wasn't a place the Dallas Cowboys thought they would find themselves after an off-season where optimism was at an all time high. Fans were excited, and pundits picked them to make serious moves from being a very good team, to NFL elite. A three-loss start for Dallas is as deflating to the Cowboys' fan base as a one-win start was for Panthers fans-- now both teams look for Sunday's contest to be a statement, defining their respective seasons, and hoping to turn 2012 around.
Tony Romo: 126/187 (67.4%), 1,409 yards, 7 TD, 9 INT-- 82.1 QB rating
One of the most maligned QBs in the NFL, Tony Romo hasn't done much to quiet his critics this season. Honestly, much of the vitriol directed at Romo is because he's a Dallas Cowboy, and not because he's a terrible quarterback. Romo has had to contend with a mediocre offensive line, a cadre of lackluster receivers, and hasn't had a consistent run game to support him. Yes, his Monday night debacle against the Chicago Bears was atrocious, but it was a black mark on an otherwise good season for Romo. In his other four games he's totaled 1,102 yards for six touchdowns and four interceptions, posting a QB rating of 94.00. Don't sleep on Tony Romo, even though he gets chided by national media.
Dez Bryant: 34 receptions, 364 yards-- two touchdowns
The Cowboys' leading receiver looks to finally get getting it following an unceremonious off-season that saw him get in more trouble away from the field, and cause Dallas to institute some tough guidelines for how Bryant was to conduct himself. So far the additional discipline has worked wonders, and now we're starting to see flashes of the receiver people thought he could be coming out of Oklahoma State. He is not a dangerous week-in, week-out 100-yard receiver, but Dez Bryant is consistent. In four of his five games he has had four receptions or more, and at least 60 receiving yards.
DeMarco Murray: 75 carries, 330 yards (4.4 YPC)-- one touchdown
Asking to become 'the guy' in the Cowboys' backfield has been a mixed bag for DeMarco Murray thus far. At times he's look every bit of a elite NFL running back-- running all over the vaunted Giants' and Ravens' defenses, but then at other times he's been utterly lost. Yesterday he sustained a foot injury against the Ravens, and while x-rays we negative, it will be one to watch.
Felix Jones: 21 carries, 105 yards (5.0 YPC)-- one touchdown
As their change-of-pace back he's been okay, but the issue for Jones is consistency. Baltimore struggled against him yesterday, but Baltimore struggled yesterday, period. Neither RB is as good as they looked, but both are better than the Panthers' defense.
Sean Lee: 52 tackles-- one forced fumble, one interception
He is just ridiculous. Watching Sean Lee come out of Penn State it was clear he was going to be good, in fact I was screaming at the TV on behalf of a friend who is a Chiefs' fan pondering why in the world Scott Pioli didn't see what was obvious. Lee and our own Luke Kuechly are peas in a pod, except Kuechly is more physically gifted. Sean Lee is tenacious, has a high football IQ, and finds ways to get involved in every play. If he continues this pace Lee will finish the season with 166 tackles.
DeMarcus Ware: 22 tackles, 6.0 sacks-- three forced fumbles
When the dust settles is DeMarcus Ware going to be considered the greatest pass rusher of all time? He certainly has to be in the conversation with the likes of Reggie White (198 career sacks), and Lawrence Taylor (132.5 sacks). Ware is on pace for his seventh consecutive 10-sack season, and right now has 105.5 sacks on his career. Couple this with the fact he just turned 30, and it's conceivable Ware can remain at an elite level for another 5 years, and play for another 8.
Dan Bailey: 8/9 FG
Bailey's only miss was from 50+ yards, and has been automatic from any other range.
Chris Jones: 12 punts, 45.2 average-- six inside 20
The Cowboys have a rookie punter of their own, and so far Chris Jones has been extremely good for Dallas.