If there's one certainty in this league, it's that injuries will happen. There's really no way to get around it. Some may call it bad luck, some may use the phrase "injury prone" to describe consistently injured players, but with how the game is played today, there's no way that all 22 starters for the Dallas Cowboys' will play in all 16 games this year.
Whether it's a torn ACL, a high ankle sprain, or a pulled hamstring, it seems that every year the Cowboys end up missing a player or two due to injury. Dez Bryant has dealt with his fair share of lower body injuries over the last few years; Tyron Smith has dealt with some back injuries; Orlando Scandrick's hamstrings seem to give him more issues each year.
There are a few players on this 2017 Dallas Cowboys roster who most stay healthy in order for the team to have success.
This is the most obvious one.
When a team's starting quarterback goes down, the team normally struggles a great deal. Cowboys Nation witnessed that in 2015 when Tony Romo went down in week two of the season with a broken collar-bone.
2016 didn't look much more promising after Romo went down yet again in the third week of the preseason against the Seattle Seahawks.
That's where the team found out that their future would be safe in the hands of Rayne Dakota Prescott.
Dak Prescott is the heartbeat of this team. Whether by his poise, his ability to escape a broken down pocket, or battling his way into the end zone for a game-tying two-point conversion, Dak Prescott leads this football team.
Again, this one shouldn't surprise many people. Any team in the league would be devastated if they happened to lose the leagues leading rusher for any extended period of time, but the loss of Elliott for the Cowboys would be soul crushing.
Zeke -- like Prescott -- is a young and energized leader for this organization. He has the ability to really dominate a game. Elliott grew so much as a player from week one to the NFC Divisional Round game last year, that I can't wait to see his improvements from year one to year two.
Elliott's role will likely be expanded this year due to the departure of Lance Dunbar, who was the team's primary third down back last year. While that opens up opportunities for more touchdowns, yards, and awesome hurdles, it also raises Elliott's risk of injury.
Luckily, Ezekiel Elliott stayed healthy pretty much his entire rookie season. He did deal with a hamstring injury that kept him out of a lot of training camp and most of the preseason.
While I love the potential of Zeke's ability in an expanded role, the Cowboys would be smart to give him a play or two off here and there to keep him fresh.
Byron Jones doesn't get the credit he deserves; not from the fans or the national media. Not only has Jones already established himself as one of the better players on the Cowboys' defense, but he is also becoming a leader in the locker room.
Byron, entering his third year in the league, has grown as a player each year.
His versatility in Rod Marinelli's defense is one of his best attributes. He has the ability to play free safety, strong safety, cornerback, and has even played linebacker in certain situations.
Beyond his play, Jones is one of the smartest players I have ever seen play.
Byron seems to always be in position to make a tackle, knock a ball away, or line the defense up the way he wants because he see's something nobody else does. This is even more important for the team when you look at how young and inexperienced most of the secondary is.
While he isn't a flashy player and doesn't get the interceptions fans might want, Byron Jones is a key piece to this defense, and the whole unit would struggle tremendously if he were to miss time.
With the retirement of Doug Free, the Cowboys not only lost their starting right tackle, but they also lost one of the biggest leaders on the team. Doug Free may have been the weakest link on the offensive line, but the locker room respected Free more than anyone else.
That's where Travis Frederick comes in.
One thing you notice about this dominant OL is that none of these starters are very vocal leaders. Tyron Smith and Zack Martin are two of the best offensive lineman in the league, but they aren't outspoken enough to really take over as the head of the Cowboys' household. La'el Collins is still young and lacks the on-field and locker room experience to really step in and take charge. But Travis Frederick has all that.
Frederick is entering his fifth year and has been one of, if not the best center in the game since he was drafted. Travis has yet to miss a game, playing in all 64 games.
I see Travis Frederick taking on a leadership role this year, and when you look at the center depth on this team, it isn't the prettiest thing in the world. Frederick is a big reason why the running game and passing game have been so successful over the past few seasons.
To lose a guy with his skill set and ability to step in and be a leader would be a huge setback for the Dallas Cowboys.
Can The Cowboys Survive Without Dez Bryant?
I really went back and forth on whether to put Dez Bryant on this list. When Dez Bryant is healthy, he is one of the best receivers in the NFL.
The reason I left him off is this: I have seen this offense keep its normal pace while Dez was out with an injury. Dez missed three games last year. The Cincinnati game, the 49ers game, and the Green Bay game. The Cowboys beat the two better teams (CIN and GB) rather easily.
Dez is no doubt a difference maker for the Cowboys, but this offense doesn't rely on Bryant to be that difference maker.
If these players stay healthy I have no problem believing the 2017 Dallas Cowboys will look very similar to the 13-3 2016 Dallas Cowboys, maybe even better.
Cowboys, Falcons Week 11 Injury Report
The Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons are both 4-5 and playing to keep their seasons alive. It's a mutual must-win game, and both will have to try to win it without some key players. Once again, we look at this week's injury reports.
Let's begin with your Cowboys, whose report is getting longer as the season wears on:
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - OUT
- DE Taco Charlton (shoulder) - OUT
- DT David Irving (ankle) - OUT
- DT Daniel Ross (calf) - OUT
- LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - OUT
- DT Antwaun Woods (concussion) - Doubtful
- G Zack Martin (knee) - Questionable
- G Connor Williams (knee) - Questionable
- DT Maliek Collins (knee) - Questionable
- LB Joe Thomas (foot) - Questionable
The biggest news is the guy who won't miss tomorrow's game; All-Pro guard Zack Martin is expected to play despite his knee injury from last Sunday night. The Cowboys, already dealing with Travis Frederick's absence and now health issues at left guard, could ill afford to go without Martin in such a pivotal game.
Even if he was healthy, rookie Connor Williams might have a hard time getting in the game. Backup Xavier Su'a-Filo looked like an experienced former second-round pick last week, and he may be the better player for now.
The defensive line has been hit hard, particularly in the middle. With Irving and Ross out, Woods doubtful, and Collins uncertain, Dallas called up DT Christian Ringo from the practice squad. They will also be without Taco Charlton, who could play inside some. Veteran Caraun Reid will be seeing a lot of playing time.
Sean Lee's ongoing absence has become almost an afterthought now with the stellar play of Leighton Vander Esch. We've seen in the past when missing Lee meant disaster on defense, but Dallas' first-round rookie has helped mitigate the damage.
- LB Deion Jones (foot) - OUT
It's a short list for Atlanta, but the one name on it is a big one. Arguably the team's best defensive player, Deion Jones will miss the game with a foot injury.
The Falcons' injury issues have been more in players suffering season-ending injuries. Both starting guards, Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco, are on injured reserve. Star running back Devonta Freeman is also there, and those losses help explain Atlanta's 30th-ranked rushing offense.
Both starting safeties are also on IR; Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal. Atlanta has one of the league's worst passing defense this year without them, ranking 30th in yards allowed and 28th in opponent passer rating.
So yes, the Falcons injury report compared to the Cowboys' may raise some eyebrows. But in terms of who has most of their key guys, Dallas is arguably still better off.
4 Best Candidates for Cowboys’ Next Offensive Coordinator
The big word around the Dallas Cowboys lately is about Jason Garrett and the future of the head coaching job. Some have speculated that either Quarterback Dak Prescott or Jason Garrett will get axed, and the other will stay.
Owner Jerry Jones was quoted on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas about his young quarterback, putting to bed at least half of the conflict.
"Dak is the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. He’s young and he’s going to get extended."
This shut the door on the idea of Prescott being replaced.
As far as Jason Garrett? Jerry Jones has been less than committed.
"I’m not in the business of backing anybody; the head coach, or offensive coordinator, I just don’t back them publicly." Jerry Jones said.
So it seems that Jason Garrett’s future is up in the air.
But what about offensive coordinator Scott Linehan? What’s held the Cowboys back this year has been the offense, and a lot of it can be contributed to their predictable play calling and inability to adapt to today’s game and its current players.
Whether or not Jason Garrett retains his job, Scott Linehan’s job doesn’t seem near as secure. His scheme doesn’t really mesh with Dak Prescott and how the offense could look. There’s only so many times you can run a three tight end set and not get furious.
Cowboys fans may want Garrett gone but they might have to settle for a new offensive coordinator instead.
The good news is that there are many options out there. Options that not only could work well with Dak Prescott, but could bring the Cowboys offense into the 2010s.
Jerry Jones once said how the Cowboys offense was like the LA Rams. If they are able to sign their Co-Offensive Coordinator, then they could be.
When Matt LaFleur left to become the Tennessee Titans OC, the job became a shared job between Waldron and Aaron Kromer. I wonder if Waldron would rather have the job all to himself?
What makes Waldron so appealing is he is also the Rams tight ends coach and passing game coordinator. Those are two areas where the Rams excel and where the Cowboys need help.
Teams are going to start copying the offensive juggernauts of the NFL and the Rams are definitely one of them. The Cowboys should do themselves a favor and get out in front before other teams beat them to it.
Cam Newton is having one of his best seasons. Not only is he an MVP candidate but he’s set to have career highs in completion percentage and QBR, as well as a career low in interceptions. Cam Newton is a very talented quarterback but some of this has to be attributed to his new Quarterback Coach, Scott Turner.
The son of Norv Turner, Scott has seemingly helped mold Cam into a more accurate passer without compromising who Cam Newton is as an athletic quarterback. That has Dak Prescott written all over it.
He's got NFL lineage and a new, scary Cam Newton to add to his resume. He may not have as impressive a track record as others on here but he looks like he could be a chip off the old block and get the Cowboys where they need to be going.
A popular head coach candidate, Lincoln Riley has shown his creativity and offensive innovation during his short time as Oklahoma’s head coach. It’s uncertain if he’ll get any real offers to be a head coach, but as an OC, he would be a serious grab.
Everyone has seen the work he’s done with Baker Mayfield and now Kyler Murray. How he’s able to incorporate different formations to open up the pass game and have the run game seem unstoppable. Just imagine what he could do with the weapons he would have at his disposal in Dallas.
It's likely that Lincoln Riley is a hot commodity for a head coach position, especially in Cleveland where he could reunite with Baker Mayfield. That shouldn’t stop the Cowboys from trying to lure him to Dallas, though. Lincoln Riley could be the real missing piece that Dallas has been looking for.
Another product of Andy Reid, Eric Bieniemy is the offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs. The former running backs coach has the experience under Andy Reid on not only how to run an offense but to use your weapons at your disposal to the fullest.
Maybe I’m over-hyping this man but when you see the work he helped put in with Pat Mahomes and how he uses those weapons around him, it makes me imagine what he can do for the Cowboy offense.
The team has no shortage of weapons and could benefit greatly from a guy like this.
If the Chiefs make it past their first playoff game, Bieniemy could become a more attractive name when it comes time for new head coaches. However, if Jerry Jones comes calling and the right offer is met, who’s to say?
If Kris Richard can be lured from Seattle to fix the Cowboys defense, Eric Bieniemy can be lured from Kansas City to fix the Cowboys offense.
Cowboys Have Already Corrected Biggest Mistake From 2017 Loss in Atlanta
The Dallas Cowboys play their next three games in 13 days, all critical to their hopes of winning the NFC East despite alternating wins and losses since week one. For the Cowboys to earn consecutive road wins, their first coming on Sunday night at the Eagles, they'll have to come out of Atlanta in much better shape than they did just a year ago.
As expected in the NFL, a lot has changed in this year. The Cowboys 27-7 loss at the Falcons in their first game without Running Back Ezekiel Elliott was the beginning of the end on a season that forced a multitude of coaching changes in Dallas.
The Cowboys stubbornness in allowing Falcons DE Adrian Clayborn to sack Dak Prescott six times by beating Chaz Green and Byron Bell is something they hoped to move past when new positional coaches were brought in at OL, TE, QB, and WR.
It took the team admitting that these moves below Offensive Coordinator Scot Linehan were not all correct two weeks ago for the Cowboys to see any real progress, but with their win last week there's hope that the Cowboys are the improved team expected weeks ago - arrived just in time for Thanksgiving.
Firing Offensive Line Coach Paul Alexander was the first move, as the Cowboys named Marc Colombo OL Coach and Hudson Houck his assistant. Colombo told 105.3 The Fan in Dallas this week that he has injured Center Travis Frederick on a headset during games as well.
Colombo, Houck, and Frederick have the Cowboys offensive line confident in their ability to play to their strengths, rewarded with a renewed faith in the zone blocking scheme that was forgotten under Alexander.
If the Cowboys offensive line was their first problem in last year's Falcons loss (it was), it's becoming their biggest strength at the right time in the season.
The Cowboys necessary changes didn't stop here though.
In desperate need of a play maker on the outside, the Cowboys are seeing their investment into Wide Receiver Amari Cooper pay off so far. Cooper is averaging 3.2 yards of separation on his routes this season, ahead of Cole Beasley's 2.6 yards as the next closest pass catcher.
Cooper's presence was a big part of Ezekiel Elliott's 151 yard rushing performance at the Eagles. A player that can win on the outside with ease and dictate coverage has benefited Prescott and the Cowboys game plan on offense enough to send away a first round pick.
It will be up to this "rebuilt" Cowboys offense to match the Falcons on Sunday. Atlanta is averaging 27.1 points per game this season, but a much more dangerous 32.2 at home. After a 1-4 start, the 4-5 Falcons are playing in front of their home fans for the first time in two weeks, losing at the Browns in week ten.
The Cowboys felt they'd be prepared for games like this after their offseason moves, instead needing to show the type of in-season urgency that's been rare for Jason Garrett's team. The same can be said about a Falcons team that's experienced playing with their backs to the wall much sooner than the Cowboys have this season, setting up a big NFC match up in the early slot Sunday.
Dak Prescott will be thankful that Chaz Green nor Byron Bell are protecting him, wanting nothing more than to deliver another win for the Cowboys to take into Thanksgiving against the division-leading Washington Redskins. Not all of the coaches responsible for the lack of adjustment in last year's game are gone. What the Cowboys do have are tangible new ideas from coaches that understand they need more than a win at the defending Super Bowl champions to call this Cowboys season a success.
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