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Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Updated: November 24, 3:06 PM ET
Five blessings grace Cowboys' season

By Calvin Watkins
ESPNDallas.com

The Dallas Cowboys have plenty for which to be thankful.

On this Thanksgiving Day, we focus on five things that this first-place team is happy about heading into the game against the Miami Dolphins at Cowboys Stadium.

Street agents

The Cowboys signed three players -- Frank Walker, Laurent Robinson and Tony Fiammetta -- during the course of the season, and each has turned into a productive member of the team.

Laurent Robinson
Laurent Robinson has filled in nicely for the Cowboys during Miles Austin's absence, scoring in each of his last four games.
Robinson is a trusted wide receiver, especially with Miles Austin struggling with his health and Dez Bryant searching for consistency.

Robinson has a touchdown reception in each of his last four games. In the four games Austin has missed, Robinson has 272 receiving yards.

"We feel like he's a starter-caliber guy," Cowboys wide receivers coach Jimmy Robinson said.

Fiammetta, who will miss his second consecutive game Thursday with an undetermined illness, transformed into a solid fullback during DeMarco Murray's burst the last four weeks.

Fiammetta is good at the point of attack and able to move defenders out of Murray's way. Murray said he enjoys playing with Fiammetta because he understands the offense and is able to develop a chemistry with him.

Walker is the solid nickel/dime veteran cornerback the Cowboys searched for when the season started. The Cowboys play all their corners. The three primary corners have nursed injuries this season, leaving Walker to take on receivers from different spots of the field. He's also playing special teams.

"When I first got here, two days in, I played corner and played well in San Francisco," Walker said. "Now I'm at middle linebacker, I'm at dime, I'm at nickel, I'm in safety some plays. It's basically being able to pick up on what they ask you to do."

Dan Bailey

How many more positive things can be said about rookie Dan Bailey? He's made 24 consecutive field goals, the third-best mark in franchise history. His current kicking coach Chris Boniol holds the top two marks at 27 and 26. Bailey's 25 successful kicks through 10 games are the second-best mark in franchise history behind Richie Cunningham's 26 in 1997.

The Cowboys were slightly worried about the position in training camp, as Bailey developed into the main place-kicker. David Buehler was kept on the roster as the kickoff specialist, but he suffered groin injuries which ultimately landed him on injured reserve.

Bailey has done an excellent job on kickoffs with 14 touchbacks out of 39 kickoffs. Opponents average 22 yards in kick returns against the Cowboys.

"I just worry about the one," Boniol said. "The next one, that's all that matters. Just go out and make one ball, whether it's kickoffs, PAT or field goal. Just do a good job with one kick."

DeMarco Murray

When running back Felix Jones went down with a high ankle sprain, rookie DeMarco Murray stepped in and rushed for a franchise-record 253 yards. He has solidified a running game that was suspect at the start of the season.

Murray has carried the ball at least 20 times in four of his last five games, something that some thought would never happen with Jason Garrett as the playcaller.

The Cowboys' rushing offense was ranked 15th in the NFL after a loss at New England. With Murray taking over, the Cowboys have risen to fifth.

While defensive coordinator Rob Ryan made a note of how Dolphins running back Reggie Bush likes to go for the home run, the same can be said of Murray.

He's got nine runs of 20 or more yards this season and had a stretch of four consecutive games in which he had at least a 10-yard run end last week at Washington.

Rob Ryan

Rob Ryan has brought a swagger to the Cowboys' defense. He's not afraid to sit veterans Marcus Spears, Keith Brooking and Bradie James or try different things with the defense, such as bring in safety Barry Church to play linebacker.

TBD
Rob Ryan frequently encourages his secondary to play with courage, and cornerback Terence Newman has responded.
He challenges his secondary players and has preached to them that he wants them to play with courage. Among the Cowboys' top 10 tacklers, five come from the secondary. That group includes safety Abram Elam, a player Ryan convinced the front office to sign because of his knowledge of the defense.

Elam is tied for second with four tackles for loss. There's been a resurgence with cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman, who have combined for 14 pass breakups this season.

Ryan has taken a shot at the Philadelphia Eagles and seemed to take another at Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Ryan doesn't back off when things don't go his way, and that's why his players on defense love him.

You can also see a difference in the defense from a statistical standpoint. Through 10 games last season, the Cowboys allowed 352.4 yards per game. This season, it's down to 328.6, putting them 10th in the league.

A healthy Tony Romo

Tony Romo is fully recovered from a fractured rib that limited his mobility and his ability to throw passes.

When Romo is healthy, he plays like an elite quarterback. In the last three games, Romo has competed 69.1 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and no interceptions for 841 yards. Only one other quarterback (the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers) has a better rating than Romo during the last three games (135.9 to 125.4).

What's also helped Romo is a strong ground game that keeps him from getting attacked by oncoming pass-rushers because defenses finally have to respect the run game.

Romo is playing with such confidence right now that he's not taking risks with his throws. The reason the Redskins almost intercepted one of his passes last week was because Laurent Robinson slipped coming out of a break.

Of course it doesn't hurt that Romo is 18-2 in November.

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.