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After Tony Romo Injury, We Find Out What Kind Of Cowboys Team Jason Garrett Has Built

It is not how they play when everything is going well that defines winners. It is what they do when misfortune smacks them in the face.

You! You're the next man up!
You! You're the next man up!
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The worst thing that could happen has happened. Tony Romo is out with a clavicle, or collarbone, fracture. Now the Dallas Cowboys have to try and stay afloat in the race for the NFC East to try and make his return later this season meaningful. Add in the loss of Orlando Scandrick for the season, the injuries to Dez Bryant, Randy Gregory, and Ronald Leary, and the still running suspensions of Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain, and things are not great for the Cowboys. Oh, and James Hanna was out, too, just to keep the list complete. Even Jason Witten finished the game with three sprains - not that he is going to let that stop him.

Don't expect any excuses from this group. Jason Garrett has been forging a specific kind of team ever since he became the head coach. He has preached incessantly that every player has to be ready to be the next man up. And only two games into this season, we have seen that the lesson has been learned. Against the New York Giants, the Cowboys drove for the two winning touchdowns after the three starters were injured and off the field. And in the win over the Philadelphia Eagles, Brandon Weeden came in and went 7-7 passing for 73 yards, one touchdown, and a 149.7 quarterback rating. So far, the Cowboys have been playing phenomenal football when their top players go down.

Can they keep it up? That remains to be seen, but this is what Garrett has been preparing this team to do. He knows how injuries are going to happen. He knows that you have to have depth. This season, Dallas seems to have that depth, and it has shown up in the first two games.

Now they have to find a way to keep from losing the lead they have in the division while they are missing so many top players. It is possible that Leary will be back for the next game, but Mackenzy Bernadeau and La'el Collins will have to fill in if he can't. For the rest, the players who have filled in have shown they can get the job done against two teams with a reputation for being able to move the ball. The Eagles were also put up a good defensive effort for much of the game, although they clearly were worn out by the huge disparity in time of possession by the end.

The Cowboys certainly have major things to work on. The biggest, outside the loss of Romo, was the team record 18 penalties. They killed their own drives several times and also gave life to the Eagles on other occasions. Why this happened is a mystery, although it may have been a result of feeling the pressure of the situation. Whatever the reason, it will almost certainly be a major point of emphasis. With the missing players Dallas can ill afford to blast away at their own feet like that. Many of the penalties were on the offensive line, which was not at its best in the Eagles game. Part of that can be put on the fierce pressure that the Eagles brought during the game, but they did not protect Romo the way they needed to. Getting Leary back will help when he is healthy. Still, they let the team down in the worst way, and their pride is probably hurt.

The running game is still a work in progress, as Dawn Macelli noted in her own post on the RBBC approach, but there were plenty of the often discussed "dirty yards" picked up during the game. And there was some improvement, despite a concerted effort by the Eagles to corral the backs. Yes, the failure on the goal line was not pretty, but it seems so far that Dallas is making it work enough. They certainly did not seem to miss DeMarco Murray, who was a stunning portrait of futility when he tried to run the ball.

Weeden is now going to have to carry the load at quarterback, but you can't ask for a better performance under pressure than he delivered. It was funny to hear Troy Aikman fretting about how Weeden was not warming up, concentrating instead on his tablet to get ready to take the helm. He must have known what he was doing.

Meanwhile, a lot of the load for the next few weeks will have to be borne by the defense and special teams, and they were more than up to the task in Philadelphia. Dan Bailey was his normal reliable self, the Eagles had no significant returns, and Danny McCray and Kyle Wilber combined on a blocked punt/return for a touchdown that gave the Cowboys all the lead they wound up needing. And the defense, led by Sean Lee who was on a true search-and-destroy mission, completely destroyed Chip Kelly's hurry-up, no-huddle offense for all but the meaningless last drive, when letting them burn up clock was sufficient to seal the win. The Cowboys even stiffened on the goal line to take more precious seconds off. The Cowboys only got credit for one sack, but they accumulated seven tackles for a loss, penetrating the Philly offensive line seemingly at will and taking Murray to a boiling point as he was repeatedly frustrated with the ball in his hands. Sam Bradford looked harried, making bad throws, and the receivers had their share of drops as they were getting battered by the defensive backs and linebackers.

Lee deserves a special note, racking up 14 tackles, two for a loss, two passes defended, one huge interception in the end zone, and recovering the feeble attempt at an onside kick, which never traveled the requisite ten yards. If he stays healthy, his presence on the field is invaluable. He is not only the most potent play-stopper, he is the field general. And his troops were doing well. The Cowboys may find themselves in a position where the defense is good enough to carry a less potent offense, and that may make all the difference.

There is going to be some doom and gloom about Romo being out, but don't expect to see any of that around Valley Ranch. Jason Garrett has this bunch mentally prepared to handle the situation, and it looks like they have the talent and ability to back it up. Things are not going to be easy, but Garrett will have whoever is available ready to play. When this is all done, this season may be looked back as, to steal a phrase, his finest hour.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB


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