If you asked Cowboys fans who they think is the best player on the team, you’ll get a few different answers. But more times than not, the names you hear will include one of these three players - Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, or Tyron Smith. So when the Cowboys ventured into San Francisco without any of their top three players taking the field, it would seem like they would be in big trouble. But they weren’t. The Cowboys demonstrated that they can still play good football even without their biggest players. So, how did this happen, exactly? The simple answer is this - the next man up is...stepping up.
Whenever you hear people talk about the “next man up” it’s easy to just brush it off as a cliche expression that doesn’t hold a lot of meaning. Every team has to rely on their depth players and each week new faces are making plays. But the Cowboys are putting some real substance behind the phrase. With their three most-talented players unable to go, the Cowboys have gotten great contribution from some unsuspecting candidates.
OUT: Tony Romo
REPLACEMENT: Dak Prescott
The biggest surprise of the 2016 season is the performance of rookie quarterback, Dak Prescott. The first-year player from Mississippi State was drafted to be a developmental quarterback for the future. He entered training camp as the teams number three QB behind Kellen Moore. And now, after only four NFL starts, he’s playing at a level to where some Cowboys fans aren’t even sure they want Romo back.
One of the most frequent questions being asked these days is what should the Cowboys do if Dak has the offense firing on all cylinders when Romo is healthy enough to return? Do they hand the keys back over to Romo or do you ride the hot hand? Some think this is laughable to even bring this up, but it’s something to ponder.
Last season, we all got a rude awakening when we learned just how good this team was when you removed Romo from the equation. It was terrible. So, let’s get this out of the way - Tony Romo is great. We’re not breaking any new ground here. But, lo and behold, the Cowboys once again find themselves without Romo, however, the results are quite different. But this doesn't make Romo any less of a player. The Cowboys coaches and front office have done a great job to strengthen the team so they are not so dependent on one player like they have been on Romo for years. This team is stronger. So the question that still remains is how much different (better or worse) is this team with Romo? Honestly, Dak may end up being the better choice, but we need to see Romo prove that he's worse before we sniff around that claim. Odds are, Tony is going to make this team even better. It's not a guaranteed, but in all likeliness, that's how it will end up.
Rather than fighting over who is better, Cowboys fan should just embrace the idea that this debate is even going on.
OUT: Dez Bryant
REPLACEMENT: Cole Beasley
You might be inclined to suggest that Beasley isn’t Bryant’s replacement, and in the direct sense - that is correct. They don’t have the same receiving role in the offense. But without Dez lining up, Beasley is the receiver that demands the most attention from the defense. Frequently, San Francisco would give help to the corner covering Beasley. That’s a telling sign that he’s more than capable of being an impact player on this offense. And so is this...
Just think back over the last few years when the Cowboys have failed to keep the chains moving to run out the clock late in the game, only to have to rely on the defense make a stop. And when they wouldn’t, the Cowboys would lose and we’d all feel terrible. Well, this bubble screen was brilliant, but it was made possible by the confidence the team has in Prescott and Beasley. The Cowboys lead the league in third down conversion (50%) and Beasley is big part of that.
Beasley is putting up Odell Beckham Jr-like numbers.
See. I wasn’t lying. If Beasley continues at this pace, he’ll have career highs in catches and yards as he’s on pace for a 92 catch, 1,100+ yard season.
OUT: Tyron Smith (The latest reports are that it’s likely Smith will play this week)
REPLACEMENT: Chaz Green
When the Cowboys selected the tackle from Florida in the 2015 draft, many fans scoffed at the pick. It wasn’t a pressing need and he wasn’t a player that was high on a lot of the boards of many draft pundits. And when he had hip surgery and started last season on injured reserve, many people just shrugged their shoulders with disinterest. But when fans learned this week that he’s wearing a walking boot after injuring his ankle in Sunday’s game, suddenly people are gravely concerned.
That’s right - people love Chaz. In just two games filling in for Tyron Smith, he has already gained a huge amount of appreciation from Cowboys Nation. And for good reason, he’s played very well. The Cowboys running game has remained sharp (actually, it’s gotten better over the last two games) and Prescott has plenty of time to operate in the pocket.
Tony Romo’s average annual salary is $18 million. Dez Bryant’s is $14 million. And then there’s Tyron Smith who makes $12.2 million a year. They have nine Pro Bowls between them. While it’s great to have top-heavy superstars, if they want to go deep in the playoffs, it’s going to take a collective effort from a team with quality players up and down the roster. Dallas is showing that they have that. No longer are the days when they lose a big name player and all hope is lost.
So the next time someone is razzing you about the Cowboys, just tell them this...”My team just won without their three best players. Can your team do that?”