It seems like a long time ago now, but early in the season, it certainly looked like all the off seasons moves to shore up the defense were paying off. Along with the maturation of Bruce Carter, Barry Church and Jason Hatcher, those moves were giving me hope that our front office might be taking a turn for the better.
The defense was producing a lot of four and out drives. Our secondary improved and big things seemed possible. Did we have a top five defense? Was Doomsday coming back?
It was a remarkable turnaround after the defensive disaster of the prior season, looking over matched against the hated Eagles and Giants. Personally, I advocated for more help on the offensive line. I figured the defense was a lost cause, even with DeMarcus Ware
Shows you what I know.
At the beginning of every season, I always worry about Romo getting hurt. Not that he's injury prone, but that he's so important to the team. But this year, Romo has been healthy. But while the defense was keeping the Cowboys in games, the offense was out of sorts way back then. Receivers were dropping balls or not running the right routes. And of course, the off-season worry of a lot of the Cowboys fans in this community -- the wretched offensive line -- was actually worse than we feared as everyone back there kept getting injured, robbing that underwhelming group of necessary continuity.
But then the inevitable injuries started to mount. Yes, Miles was out for a while, and Dez broke his finger, and the annual IR trip for Murray, but the big news was on the defense. Church was lost for the season. Then Lee. Then Carter. Ratliff has hardly played. Now Ware is playing but is a shell of himself (he had his customary 9 sacks through 8 games - an 18 sack pace - but just 2.5 in the last seven games as injuries have taken their toll).
If you were to simply rank the defensive starters, one through eleven, and you assume they are all healthy, my ranking would go something like this:
3. Lee (it's easy to argue that he or Carter could be #2).
8. Ratliff (He's living on his past, at this point)
9. Claiborne (only because he's a rookie)
11. Church (but he would have been a strong eleven).
Clearly, the heart and soul of this defense are those top four players. And half of them are gone and another is playing hurt. Plus all the other guys, including Scandrick and Bent, two key roll players.
And so obviously, the defense is no longer remotely a top five defense. And that's a shame. Injuries are a part of the game, but this many injuries to such critical players is not something a team can overcome. There's no way around that. No one has that kind of depth on their team.
So what looked early in the season like our primary hope of winning football games has been reduced to a shell of its self. And the ramshackle offense, thanks to somewhat better play of late by the offensive line, the much improved play of Dez Bryant, the ever-steady work of Witten, and the elite play, especially in the second half of the season, of Tony Romo, it's now our offense that gives us any hope of winning this Sunday.
Who would have thought?
The moral of the story starts with props to Jason Garrett. It would have been easy at many points for this team to quit in the face of all this adversity. But they haven't. I don't know if we'll beat the Redskins. I don't think we'd go far in the playoffs this year. But there is something foundational happening with this team.
But it's not just Garrett and The Process. It's also Tony Romo for gutting it out last year with painful broken ribs. He really set an example, one that Dez is bravely following. That seems like a long time ago but I think it set a tone of seriousness that is paying dividends this year.
The football gods have not been kind to Tony Romo. (Or we Cowboy fans these last 15 or so years). But maybe, just maybe, he'll win in spite of all the challenges and lead this team to wins now and next year that will have us all talking years from now as old timers about back in the day.