After All Pro wide receiver Dez Bryant was injured in the first regular season game of the year, people began to wonder how competitive the Dallas Cowboys would be without one of their star offensive players for at least six weeks.
In the second game, fans felt a collective gut punch when quarterback Tony Romo hit the turf in the third quarter and didn’t get up for a while, suffering a fractured left clavicle.
More from The Landry Hat
- 3 ways Cowboys’ Dak Prescott can have a bounce-back season in 2023
- Cowboys News: Dallas sets pre-draft visit with potential Dalton Schultz upgrade
- NFL executives heaping praise on offseason is uncharted territory for Cowboys
- 3 free agent signings from NFC East rivals that left Cowboys fans laughing
- Cowboys News: Brandin Cooks sends flattering message to CeeDee Lamb, Stephon Gilmore
Professional and amateur analysts alike started to wonder if the Cowboys could weather this storm.
Well, after a decisive 20-10 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles, which never really felt as close as the final score indicates, I would like to prognosticate for a moment and tell you how the remainder of the regular season could pan out.
First, know that the Cowboys announced Tuesday that Romo will be out for eight weeks, meaning that he will probably miss seven games.
This means that quarterback Brandon Weeden will be starting in Romo’s place this Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. In fairness, I wrote a previous article here stating that Weeden might be our biggest roster problem, but I think he can perform well.
He stepped in this past week in relief and went 7-for-7 with 73 yards of passing, one TD, 11 yards of rushing, no sacks, and no turnovers. Weeden had a 149.7 passer rating.
But the game was really won by the Cowboys defense, including the absolute dominance of linebacker Sean Lee, who posted some phenomenal single-game stats: 14 tackles, two of which were for losses, two pass breakups, an onside kick recovery, and an interception. He was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week as a result.
Lee is an accomplished ball hawk, leading all linebackers for interceptions since 2010. He has 12 interceptions during that period, and he did it in only 48 games, averaging one INT for every four games played. To put this in perspective, the guy in second place is Deandre Levy from the Detroit Lions. He needed 78 starts to get 11 INTs.
According to head coach Jason Garrett, Lee set a new record for production points under the Cowboys’ grading system for players, shattering former Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter’s record by “20-plus points”.
“Ridiculously high,” Garrett said to the Dallas Morning News, speaking of Lee’s grade, “He was big-time in the game. He has been outstanding the first two weeks.”
This might be a good time to invest in a Sean Lee jersey. We all remain hopeful that he can stay healthy throughout the whole season.
When I was a kid, I remember going to see the “Rocky” movies in the theater. Afterwards, I felt like I could beat anyone. This is the type of inspiration I get watching Sean Lee on the field.
Returning to our analysis:
Based on the defense’s performance through the first two games, the Cowboys currently have the #3 defense in the NFL, with the #1 run defense and the #8 pass defense. They have allowed only two offensive touchdowns so far.
In week 5, defensive end Greg Hardy and linebacker Rolando McClain will be eligible to play, which will shore up a very strong defensive unit. Within a couple of weeks of that, defensive end Randy Gregory will also return.
What does this all mean going forward?
It means the Cowboys will be in the mix and in the playoffs at the end of this season.
But how? They already lost their two key offensive players for half the season, right?
Well, frankly, Weeden doesn’t have to be a superstar to beat the struggling New Orleans Saints (0-2), whose starting quarterback Drew Brees is nursing a shoulder injury. Weeden will also face the Eagles again, who seem directionless right now. He will face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1), New York Giants (0-2), New England Patriots (2-0), Seattle Seahawks (0-2), and Atlanta Falcons (2-0).
I am one of the biggest fans of the Cowboys, but if I’m being realistic, Weeden is likely to go 3-4 or maybe 4-3 at best during his starts.
If the defense can continue to be dominant, they might be able to deliver one of the upcoming games to Weeden, much like the Denver Broncos have done for quarterback Peyton Manning in the first two weeks.
However, even If we assume only three wins for Weeden, Tony Romo will return with a 5-4 Cowboys record, and seven games remaining in the regular season.
At this point, the most challenging games that Romo is likely to have would come against the Green Bay Packers (at Lambeau Field) and the New York Jets, who have been surprisingly good on defense so far, forcing ten turnovers in just two games.
Even if Romo loses two more games, the Cowboys would finish at 10-6, or possibly even 11-5. This is good enough to win the division and host at least one playoff game again.
With numerous players returning from injury during the latter part of the season, this team promises to be very strong down the final stretch in late November and in December.
Don’t count them out. This could still be our year.