Editor In Chief
I’m not a fan of preseason awards. I’m not a fan of giving out accolades after week one, which is why I’m going to wait four to six weeks.
Because in four to six weeks Dez Bryant will (reportedly) be back in the lineup for the Dallas Cowboys. In four to six weeks, the Dallas Cowboys will be either sitting pretty atop the NFC East, or they’ll be looking up from the cellar.
In four to six weeks the Cowboys will begin their push for consecutive division championships, or they’ll be wondering how it all went wrong.
And either way, it will be on the back of the NFL MVP, Tony Romo.
The Dallas Cowboys are decimated. On defense they are still without Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain, two players that can create pressure on the quarterback and provide support in the running game and pass coverage but are both lost to suspension. McClain was the second best player on an improved Dallas defense a year ago, while Hardy could be the missing piece on a front seven that put more pressure on blocking dummies than an opposing quarterback last season.
Defensive back Orlando Scandrick, the Cowboys’ best player on the defensive side of the ball, is gone for the year. Rookie defensive end Randy Gregory, who absolutely dominated New York’s Ereck Flowers in the season opener Sunday night, is lost for four weeks with a high ankle sprain. Dallas’ defense was going to be questionable before the Scandrick and Gregory injuries, but now it’s downright atrocious.
Sure, Sean Lee returns to the starting lineup, and Demarcus Lawrence is expected to improve on what was a serviceable rookie campaign, but this defense needs all hands on deck.
On offense the Cowboys are missing two of the three biggest weapons they have. Of course, Demarco Murray, the league’s leading rusher a year ago, left for Philadelphia in free agency, but with Bryant’s broken foot taking him out up to six weeks (maybe eight to ten depending on who you ask) the weight of the offense falls squarely on the shoulder of Romo.
The offensive line is still in tact (knock on wood) but they can’t block, run, pass, or catch. Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden combined to be a quality back against New York. Randle has the capability to break long runs, and I’m still in the camp that if McFadden can stay healthy he could be a very poor mans Murray, but neither of them proved they could do what Murray did last season.
Terrence Williams is a very good second threat in the passing game, but at this point that’s all he’s proven he can be; a number two. With Bryant in the passing game, you know that on nearly every play the defense will have safety help over the top, and if not, Bryant is winning one-on-one battles nine times out of ten. Defense won’t have to worry about allocating two defenders for Williams, Jason Witten, or Cole Beasley, allowing them to be more aggressive in blitz packages, or put double coverage on Witten to completely eliminate the Cowboys all-time leader in receptions.
Which is why it all comes back on Romo. Romo hasn’t always had the luxury of having an elite wide receiver at his disposal. Yes, Terrell Owens and Romo connected plenty of times during their time together, but Owens was nearing the end of his career while Bryant is just beginning his.
Romo will have to find new ways to create points. The likes of Beasley, Lucky Whitehead, and Devin Street will have to improve drastically into the number two role behind Williams. Beasley is a solid slot receiver, but sending him outside eliminates the threat of his quick breaks in and out of cuts.
The offense won’t be able to rely on Bryant to overpower corners or for Murray to gash it up the middle behind the league’s best offensive line. Romo will need to be more precise and safe with his throws. This defense won’t be able to consistently hold opposing offenses at bay, and the offense isn’t in a situation to win shootouts.
If the Cowboys can make it to their Week 8 meeting against Philadelphia sitting at 4-3 (losses to Philadelphia in Week 2, New England Week 5 and Seattle Week 7) it will be because Romo put this team in position to win. It will be because Romo found ways to make Street, Whitehead, Williams, and Beasley into quality and productive wide receivers.
The Cowboys will be alive by Week 8 if Romo can find ways to get Lance Dunbar consistently involved in the game and if he can string together long, effective drives, keeping the defense on the sideline.
Yes, it won’t be possible without the offensive line. It might be tough if Randle and McFadden never prove they can be workhorse backs. But it will be even tougher if Romo isn’t the same Romo he was from a year ago.
There may not be a quarterback in the NFL that has less to work with and has the capability to do more. Aaron Rodgers lost Jordy Nelson, but I’m sure you’re taking Randall Cobb over Terrence Williams every day of the week.
But Romo has Witten, right? Yes, but Witten is not the same animal he was in his prime. Witten is good for a six-yard reception underneath, maybe getting four yards after the catch.
The weapons on offense are diminished with the departure of Murray and the loss of Bryant, and the injuries to the defense gives Romo no room for failure. Make no mistake about it, if Dallas is still in contention come their second matchup with Philadelphia, it will be because of the play NFL MVP Tony Romo.
But I’m not a fan of giving out awards after Week 1.