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Dallas Cowboys passing deep into rare air
Romo and Company rank among best offenses in team history
IRVING – The more you watch the Cowboys' offense, the more you feel compelled to ask whether it's the best in franchise history.
It's a legitimate question for a franchise that has had an offense ranked among the top 10 25 times since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. Three times, Dallas has finished No. 1.
In a couple of years, Emmitt Smith will give the Cowboys six offensive players in the Hall of Fame, and the number should swell to eight when Bob Hayes and Larry Allen eventually get in, as they should.
Still, trying to determine whether the 2008 Cowboys have the best offense in the franchise's illustrious history is difficult.
Is it absurd to think they will be better than the 1992 Cowboys of Troy, Emmitt and Michael? What about the 1978 team of Roger Staubach and Tony Dorsett?
I'll start the discussion and you can continue it during the pregame shows before the Cowboys attempt to continue their offensive dominance today against Washington.
Let's start by comparing the '92 offense to the 2008 team, because both were built around massive offensive lines and both used the pass to set up the run. Both teams preferred passing in the first half to grab the lead before turning the game over to the offensive line and running game.
The '92 Cowboys used a timing-based passing game that took advantage of Aikman's uncanny accuracy and precision. He'd throw the ball to Irvin or tight end Jay Novacek before they made their move, trusting they would be in the right spot.
Alvin Harper, just developing into a big-play threat, caught 35 passes for 562 yards.
The '92 Cowboys, powered by Emmitt Smith's young legs, slowly bludgeoned opponents. He carried 373 times for 1,713 yards and 18 touchdowns.
These Cowboys rely on a quick-strike offense that takes advantage of Tony Romo's creativity and ability to throw from several arm angles . They lead the league in plays of 10 yards or more and 20 yards or more.
Even if you contain them much of the night, as Green Bay did last week, the Cowboys' big plays can overwhelm you. Dallas had plays of 37, 55, 60 and 62 yards against the Packers. If teams choose to double-team T.O. and Jason Witten, as Green Bay did, backups Felix Jones and Miles Austin can make difference-making plays.
Patrick Crayton, who had a 184-yard game last season, does everything better than Harper except catch the deep ball. The 2008 Cowboys also get more production from backup tight ends Martellus Bennett and Tony Curtis than Alfredo Roberts provided.
And we haven't even discussed Marion Barber, easily the league's best runner inside the 20. He gives the offense its physical mind-set.
When Barber comes out, speedster Felix Jones replaces him. We all know Emmitt never took a break because he didn't want anyone else carrying the ball.
The 2008 Cowboys have more weapons, and Romo can win games in the pocket or on the perimeter. But the 1992 Cowboys didn't just accumulate gaudy numbers. They won Super Bowl XXVII.
These Cowboys carry an 11-year albatross – the last time the franchise won a playoff game – around their collective neck.
Now let's look at the 1978 Cowboys.
They played in era in which the running game ruled. Tony Dorsett rushed for 1,325 yards, third in the league, and fullback Robert Newhouse added 584 yards.
These days, fullbacks are glorified offensive linemen.
The Cowboys had a small, quick offensive line designed to execute the draws, sweeps and screen passes Landry loved. They were robotic in their efficiency.
Dallas didn't have a 1,000-yard receiver. Of course, there were only four in the entire league.
Tony Hill averaged 17.9 yards on 46 receptions, while Drew Pearson averaged 16.2 on 44 catches. You want perspective? Last season, Terrell Owens led the team with a 16.7-yard average per catch.
Preston Pearson, the NFL's first third-down back, led the team with 47 catches for 526 yards. Can you imagine a running back with that many catches averaging 11.2 yards per catch in today's NFL? Nope.
Staubach passed for 3,190 yards, and tight end Billy Joe DuPree caught a team-high nine touchdown passes.
That team could win by passing or running. It won the Super Bowl in the 1977 season but failed to defend the title, losing to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XIII, one of the greatest games ever played. No shame in that.
It's still the best offensive team in franchise history – until these Cowboys prove they can do more than post spectacular numbers.