Entering the new season, there were a lot of questions about how certain position groups of the Dallas Cowboys would look after another round of roster turnover took effect. Complicating matters even more is that the team has already endured season-ending injuries to some key defensive players. Almost all the offensive line starters have missed time due to injury and the team might be running their new lead-dog running back into the ground.
With four games in the books, let’s look at four of the team’s most concerning position groups and assess how things are going.
Keep Tony Pollard on a pitch count
With no Ezekiel Elliott on the roster, we all knew the Cowboys were going to give Tony Pollard a larger role, but it was still a little surprising to see how much they using him to start the season. Throughout his first four years in the league, Pollard only eclipsed 20 carries once (against Green Bay last season when Zeke was out). After three weeks into the new season, he’s already games with 25 and 23 carries.
Last week, Pollard only had 11 rushes. The Cowboys appear to have reassessed their usage plans with him because the game script and early exit from Rico Dowdle should’ve meant more Pollard, but it didn’t. Instead, the team used Deuce Vaughn more than had all season as well as finding other ways to supplement the rushing game (WR runs or WR bubble screens).
Hopefully, Dowdle’s hip injury doesn’t keep him out too long. He has a laundry list of injuries dating back to college so it’s hard to trust his availability. If he’s a no-go, then it’s time to call up Malik Davis. Either way, the Cowboys must make a concerted effort to conserve Pollard’s juice. His efficiency has already dropped to 4.3 yards per carry, down almost a full yard per rush entering the year.
They know what they’re doing on the offensive line
The offensive line is always a peculiar ordeal for the Cowboys as we don’t really know what’s going on from one day to the next. The team entered the season with one major question mark, and that was the health of Terence Steele coming off of last year’s season-ending knee injury. Satisfyingly, he’s been healthy. But guess who’s not? Everybody else.
That’s right. All four of the other starters have missed time during the first four games. First, it was just Tyler Smith who was recovering from a hamstring tweak he suffered right before the start of the season. Then, as soon as he was ready to return, news circulated that Tyler Biadasz (hamstring) and Zack Martin (ankle), and Tyron Smith (knee) were dealing with injuries. All three of them didn’t play against Arizona.
This has meant that free agent signing Chuma Edoga has been relied on to fill in the gaps, starting all four games, first at left guard and most recently at left tackle. He struggled against Arizona but had done a solid job at other times. And despite the urge to want Tyler Smith to pop outside to protect Dak Prescott’s blindspot, Edoga seems to be holding things down okay. Why do we keep second-guessing this coaching staff when they have shown us that they know what they’re doing along the offensive line.
The linebacker group is dangerously thin
It started out so great. They re-signed Leighton Vander Esch to a team-friendly two-year deal after a good season where he had racked up the most tackles he’s had since his 140-tackle season during his All-Pro rookie year. They also had Damone Clark, who looked good at times last year as a rookie. And they used their third-round draft pick to take the athletic Longhorn prospect DeMarvion Overshown. It was a group we were once excited about.
Sadly, Overshown was lost for the year when he injured his knee in the preseason. The team also released both Jabril Cox and Devin Harper. Cox was signed to Washington’s practice squad and Harper was just recently signed to Cincinnati’s active roster. This forced the Cowboys to call up Malik Jefferson from the practice squad on Sunday as he contributed 17 snaps on special teams.
As a group, they’re doing well. Leighton Vander Esch is coming off his best game of the year. Damone Clark has been very reliable thus far. And converted safety Markquese Bell has done surprisingly well at his new position, playing in 36% of the defensive snaps this season. It’s hard to complain about the Cowboy's approach as the players who are playing are playing well, but it just seems like they are just an injury away from being in real trouble.
The loss of Diggs might not be so bad
When the Cowboys traded for Stephon Gilmore, it immediately solidified the cornerback room as the team had quality starters across the board with Trevon Diggs, Gilmore, and DaRon Bland. They also had Jourdan Lewis in their back pocket. However, all that changed when the team lost Diggs for the season.
Bland moves from a position of strength in the slot to the outside where he’s shown to be a little more vulnerable. Lewis returns to the slot where he’s been solid in recent years, but that’s still a step down from what Bland was giving them. Essentially all three corner spots got weaker and that’s not ideal.
Of course, that’s assuming that this DaRon Bland fella doesn’t get better on the outside in year two. After what we saw against the Patriots, things are looking rather promising. The Cowboys might be okay here with Gilmore and Bland holding things down while Lewis works himself back into the fold. And there’s not a lot of teams that can say that after losing their top cornerback for the year.