Is the fear an overreaction or justified for the Cowboys?
The Dallas Cowboys came into this season with high hopes. Starting quarterback Dak Prescott was back and looked to be fully recovered from his injuries, Both starting offensive tackles were also back and looked to be in great shape. They brought in decorated defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to lead this young yet talented defense. There were plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
Sadly, all those high hopes have started to fade as the Cowboys have once again been hit with a rash of injuries, suspensions, and players having to enter the COVID protocol. These problems have now started to cast a shadow over what appeared to be such a promising year. The latest injury to star defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence has really put into question Dallas’ chances of making the playoffs. With the team facing a young Los Angeles Chargers team hungry to take the next step, this game is taking on a huge importance for the Cowboys, who face a real risk to be two games down in a division many picked them to run away with.
Last season devolved into a debacle due to the accumulation of injuries, aggravated by so many being on the offensive line. Now we are seeing those pile up again, and once more, the most crucial are in the trenches, although shifting to the defensive side. Could this be a repeat of last year for Dallas? Our Terence Watson and Tom Ryle have differing views.
Terence: Are the Cowboys in another tough situation with the suspension of La’el Collins and injuries to DeMarcus Lawrence, Neville Gallimore, and Michael Gallup? Yes, but that isn’t as bad as the situation they were in last season. The loss of Dak Prescott was the most crippling thing to happen to this team in 2020. All of the players the Cowboys are currently missing will be back this season, and in the meantime, the Cowboys have players that can come in and help ease these losses. Last season Terence Steele was a rookie and a deer in the headlights when facing defenders. Now the coaching staff is saying he’s one of the most improved players on the roster. Gallup won’t miss significant time and Cedrick Wilson can fill in for the duration of his absence. As for Lawrence and Gallimore well, Tarell Basham and Dorance Armstrong will have to fill in with possibly Jaylon Smith and rookie Micah Parsons adding to the pass rush. Gallimore is already ramping up his workouts and should be returning next month.
Tom: After the first game a year ago, we were mostly just concerned about right tackle. Then things started to pile up. Now the team has to figure out how to manage issues at right tackle, one defensive tackle spot, both defensive ends, the third wide receiver, and perhaps both safety spots with Donovan Wilson and Damontae Kazee popping up on the injury reports. This isn’t just a bit like 2020 for Dallas. It’s worse than it was going into the second game. Remember, we even thought Collins was going to make it back to the lineup at some point after last year’s opener. Most of the injuries had not even occurred, and Randy Gregory’s suspension was the only other thing of note to deal with. Objectively the Cowboys are clearly in worse shape in terms of roster availability. It is definitely time to worry about this being another lost season.
Terence: We are one week into the season, that seems too early to consider this a season that is similar to the last. Teams all around the NFL are dealing with injuries and COVID protocols. Just look at the Baltimore Ravens. They lost three running backs and probably their best starting safety and they are still competing. We should be thinking the same way about the Cowboys who have done a few things this offseason in preparation for situations like this. They’ve brought in Ty Nsekhe for depth at right tackle and as said before Steele is being praised by this coaching staff for his development from last season, Tarell Basham who’s no slouch for more depth at defensive end, and Micah Parsons has been rushing off the edge as well so that should ease some concerns at those spots. Gallimore is working his way back and should return next month so there is a light at the end of the tunnel at defensive tackle. As for the safety position, we should be concerned there but that’s nothing new to Cowboys fans. We’re not even sure if they will be out or not.
Tom: Here’s the thing. Dallas has already faced what feels like a season’s worth of injuries/problems for their key starters, and we have seventeen more weeks to get through. There will be more, and the fear is there will be a bit of the snowball effect that just tore things apart last year. The team’s depth was exposed for being disturbingly nonexistent in 2020. That worked out OK the first week since Connor McGovern is so competent, but he may be more an exception. Now they are relying on Steele, Dorance Armstrong, Basham, Wilson, and others to fill the gaps. The odds of all of them being able to provide adequate performance are very, very small. Against some teams this year they will be able to get wins. These compiling absences are making it harder and harder for them to beat the better teams they face, and opens up the chances for further embarrassments like last year’s flop against the New York Jets. The anticipated short term nature of all the problems so far offers some hope for after the bye, but what looked like an easy road over the next five games just got a lot rougher. If one of the other NFC East teams turns out better than we thought, with the Philadelphia Eagles the biggest worry at the moment, then we could see the season slip through the Cowboys’ grasp. And that would be very much a repeat of last year.
Terence: I get your concern about the snowball effect but the main reason I believe this season will be better than the last is the return of Prescott on offense and Quinn on the defensive side of the ball calling plays. Last season we saw what this team was without Prescott and how much he can lift a team with his presence on the field. For Quinn, his job is a bit tougher with Lawrence gone but as we’ve seen and heard in training camp and practices he’s not afraid to switch things up in order to put players in positions to succeed. With Quinn making the calls, Basham, and Randy Gregory when he comes back, will be a good enough pass rush to handle the absence of Lawrence until he can return. As far as the NFC East teams, we’ve seen that the Washington Football Team and New York Giants aren’t explosive enough to compete with the Dallas offense, and the Philadelphia Eagles faced probably the worst team in the Atlanta Falcons last week. They need to face a good team before we can consider them a threat.
Tom: We have not seen enough of Quinn to have as much confidence in him as we have in Kellen Moore. Further, because the team was in such bad situations on the scoreboard last year, Prescott and many others tried to do to much. It is just hard to ignore how things have started in 2021.