No, this is not a rant about the Jets and Lions scoring points off turnovers. The "other guys" refers to all the young and/or newly signed players on the Cowboys roster that have made important contributions and big plays as the team has relied on them to step in due to injuries.
While Cowboys fans and critics are quick to discuss the performance of Tony Romo during the second half of the two losses, Dallas has also earned two victories while missing some key players, while others played through injuries. Before the season began, if we were to imagine the injuries to Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Felix Jones, Terence Newman, Mike Jenkins, and Orlando Scandrick (not to mention others) during the first four weeks, would you think the team would be 2-2?
This isn't an attempt to find the silver-lining after a disheartening loss, this is the statement of a simple fact: The Cowboys have been competitive in four games while having to rely on backups and new signings to start at several skill positions. The Cowboys have been relying on their "bench" to help bolster the ranks and rotations, and the young and new guys are answering the call with fervor and success.
While there is good news on the injury front, especially with the bye week providing some extra time for players to heal and rehab, it should not be forgotten that during a tough start to the season the Cowboys have found some backups and rotational players that can and will provide support off the bench.
Let's take a closer look...
The Cowboys were missing 10 players at practice this week. But when the players return from their bye Monday, the Cowboys expect to be close to 100 percent healthy for the first time all season.
While I doubt the Cowboys will be at 100% strength, the majority of those 10 injured players will likely play against New England. It seems nearly certain Dez Bryant will be on the field soon, and Miles Austin and Orlando Scandrick sound confident they will begin to practice after the team returns from a few days off. Other players that missed practice but could return: David Buehler could start kicking again next week, the secondary should see the return of Gerald Sensabaugh, and Barry Church and Danny McCray who are recovering from slight injuries versus the Lions, as is Kyle Kosier. Less certain are Jason Hatcher and Tony Fiammetta rehabbing a calf and hamstring injury, respectively, and Derrick Dockery who appears to have played through a tibial fracture and MCL strain against the 49ers and could miss a few more weeks.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Wednesday morning. "...We wanted to make sure that we did the right thing with some of our players who have been banged up. They got some conditioning in. They got some individual work in. But if they were hurting in any way, we wanted to make sure we gave some other guys an opportunity to step in there."
All season the Cowboys have been asking "other guys...to step in there" due to injuries, and so far have been getting good results. Think of some of the highlights in the Cowboys first four games and consider the players responsible...
Sean Lee - While second round picks are expected to start sooner than later, Sean has certainly surpassed most everyone's expectations and has played as one of the best defenders on the field through four weeks.
Danny McCray - Has become a strong special teams contributor and made a huge play versus the Jets when he sacked Mark Sanchez and forced a turnover.
Jesse Holley - The 4th & Long product came up big against the 49ers and helped the Cowboys come back to force overtime and had the big play in overtime.
Jason Hatcher - Won the starting job early and has played solid before getting injured. He came up big versus the 49ers with two sacks.
Dan Bailey - Made some clutch kicks versus the 49ers and was also the leading scorer versus the Redskins going 6-for-6 with his field goal attempts. He has also improved on his kickoffs each week.
Laurent Robinson - The Cowboys signed Laurent twice this season, and the veteran free agent seems to have won the #3 WR role, as he can play from the slot and outside if Miles comes into the slot, and he had a break out game versus the Lions.
Sean Lissemore - With the injury to Hatcher, Sean saw more playing time than usual against the Lions but the trend seems to have started in Week 3 versus the Redskins. He has looked strong on the defensive line, and while he only saw eight snaps in each of the first two games, he had eighteen in each of the last two and had a solid game versus the Lions stopping a few run plays and getting a quarterback hit (not to mention the 38-yard kickoff return vs. the Lions).
While a few on the list have made a case to remain starters throughout the remainder of the season, the Cowboys coaches (and fans) should be happy with the success the team has had with some unknown commodities seeing a lot of action early this season. It not only bodes well for the success of the coaching staff preparing the young and/or new players and Jason Garrett's ability to create a team atmosphere that goes deeper than just the starting lineups; it also promises for greater future success with the return of all the starters and now more experienced and battle-hardened rotational players for support.
Obviously the Newman, Jenkins, and Scandrick starting line-up would have been best at the start of the season, but is more than welcome against the Patriots and Tom Brady. It will be nice to move Alan Ball down the depth chart after seeing the most reps of any Cowboys corner after four weeks. Even newly-signed Frank Walker has silently been competitive, being called out only once for a penalty last week (certainly costly)but having not allowed any big plays. Church has also been a pleasant surprise, continuing to improve from the hard work and success in the preseason, often getting reps in nickel situations when Rob Ryan brings in an extra safety.
The NFL ranks defenses by yards, so the Cowboys are currently ranked the 4th defense in the league. This is despite being only middle of the pack in passing yards allowed, but second overall in rushing yards allowed. Clearly the turnovers for touchdowns have led to the Cowboys allowing too many points per game, but being one of the best at stopping the run and one of the leaders in sacks is a good start. With the return of all the starters in the secondary, not to mention greater depth with Scandrick, Ball, and Church available as the extra defensive backs, this defense should be able to improve on their current faults and get better each week - like Jason Garrett's mantra. If young defensive linemen like Hatcher and Lissemore continue to make an impact, and Lee continues to impress and Victor Butler continues to provide additional linebacker support in pressure packages, this defense should have a bright future.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Cowboys again rank high in yards (6th in the league) but not as well in points (12th), but of course, Miles Austin has been out two weeks, Dez Bryant is on-and-off the field with injuries, and Tony Romo has been fighting through a fractured rib while Felix Jones is running with a recently separated shoulder. Just like the defense, Jason Garrett has managed to keep the offense dangerous even though it has been hampered by injuries. If all the starters can get healthy during the bye week and new contributors like Robinson, Holley, Murray, and the young offensive-line continue to continue and improve, this offense should have a bright future.