After abusing the Philadelphia Eagles 34-14 in the first round of the NFC playoffs, there is no question that the Dallas Cowboys are a much different team than the one that floundered at the end of 2008.
But why is this team so much better? The 2009 draft was seen as a bust by all the "experts." They rid themselves of their biggest weapon on offense in Terrell Owens, and the Cowboys didn't add any big name free agents in the offseason.
Here are five of the biggest reasons the Cowboys are a much better team than in 2009.
Roy Williams Injury Against Denver
When Owens was released in the offseason, the biggest question at Valley Ranch was how his production was going to be replaced.
Roy Williams was supposed to fill the void, but after being out of sync with quarterback Tony Romo in the first four games, it was apparent he was not the answer.
In Game Four vs. the Broncos, Romo let a pass sail high down the seam to Williams, and Broncos defender D.J. Williams drilled the wide receiver in the ribs.
The injury was enough to keep Williams out of the following game against Kansas City, and that opened the door for the easily the biggest surprise in Dallas this year—Miles Austin.
Austin set a Cowboys' record with 250 yards receiving in his first start and never looked back.
He finished the year with 81 catches, 1,320 yards, and 11 touchdowns.
It is clear that the Cowboys have found their replacement for Owens.
Relatively Injury-Free Season
Unlike 2008, this Cowboys team has been relatively injury-free. Only four starters have missed games, and no one was on injured reserve when the playoffs started.
A healthy Terrence Newman, Felix Jones, and Matt McBriar are easily the three biggest names who were injured for most of last year and who have contributed greatly to the 2009 team.
Newman has been pretty much a shutdown corner back. His counterpart, Michael Jenkins, has more interceptions, but that is because teams don't throw at Newman that often.
Jones is who we thought Reggie Bush would be. His speed and explosiveness out of the backfield is something that the Cowboys haven't had since Tony Dorsett. The coaches are finally realizing that he is the future, and you can expect him to be the main guy during this playoff run.
McBriar has had a huge impact on field position for the Cowboys this year. He ranked fourth in the NFL with 38 punts inside the 20, despite having much fewer punting attempts than those ahead of him.
Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett Protecting Tony Romo
As much as everyone wants to blame Romo for his inability to protect the ball and choking in "big games," it really was never on him. I can only remember one game in which I thought Romo lost it for the Cowboys, and that was this year in the first game against the Giants.
While Romo has certainly matured and protected the ball more in 2009, his protection was horrible in past years against good defenses.
Until this year, the protection schemes that Garrett designed did little to stop blitzing defenses with good secondaries.
While Garrett has had other troubles this year, he has the Cowboys' offense completely prepared for those types of defenses this year. Garrett has given Romo shorter drops and quick pass options, which nullifies most blitzes.
This had led to a much more productive offense against those nasty, blitzing defenses.
Defense Not Giving Up Big Plays
The defense's Achilles heel of the last few years was giving up big plays.
Releasing safety Roy Williams in the offseason was the first step. He was replaced by Sensabaugh, who can cover the quicker tight ends and makes sure tackles.
The next biggest issue was the corner back position opposite Newman.
Orlando Scandrick was the favorite going into preseason, but Jenkins quickly proved he was the better corner and had the numbers to be a Pro Bowler this season.
Between the emergence of Jenkins and Newman's health, the Cowboys have had a solid secondary.
The only problem this year was when safety Ken Hamlin was injured in midseason. But since his return, the Cowboys have held the New Orleans Saints' No. 1 offense to a season-low 17 points, and then zero, zero, and 14 points the following three games.
Replaced Locker Room Cancers with Stand-Up Players
Owens, Pacman Jones, and Tank Johnson were all released by the Cowboys in the offseason, not only because of their ineffectiveness, but also because they were a detriment to the locker room.
They were replaced with the big character guys such as Keith Brooking, Igor Olshanksy, and Gerald Sensabaugh.
These players bring an energy and cohesiveness to a team that had a lot of potential, but didn't really know how to act like winning, professional football players.