With the news that Brian Waters may be out for the rest of the season, the Cowboys are losing one of, if not the most important aspect of the only consistent unit on the team. Romo has thrown for over 500 yards and 5 TDs in a game, as well as 170 yards and 1 TD. The running game has gone for almost 200 yards once and as little as 52 yards another time. The defense has gone from giving up 51 points to 3 points.
Through all of this one aspect of the team has remained solid and that is the offensive line. With an adjusted sack rate of 5.6%, this unit ranks 5th in the NFL. Tyron Smith has had some issues with penalties, but since being drafted by the Cowboys he has always been a solid tackle. Doug Free is possibly the most improved player on this team. Travis Fredrick has been one of the pleasant surprises of this draft under center. Taking all this into account Brian Waters has changed the culture of this offensive line and deserves as much, if not most of the credit for their success.
Given that Brian Waters has become a leader of this offensive line his injury has, at least for now, turned the one consistent unit into a mystery. How important has Waters’ veteran presence meant to the young center Travis Frederick and the vastly improved Doug Free? Mackenzy Bernadeau is in line to take over Waters’ role, and he gave up seven sacks and 24 quarterback hurries a season ago. Being the optimist that I am, I see no reason not to give this unit the benefit of the doubt given their success this year. It’s unrealistic to expect this unit to have the same success without Waters. However there’s no reason to panic yet. Waters has been important, but so long as Smith, Frederick and Free continue to play the way they have the Dallas Cowboys offensive line should be good enough.
In the wake of the news that Waters may be out for the season there is also some positives for the injured Cowboys. DeMarco Murray, who would have started last week had it not been for a set back, has a good chance to start this week. His return could be enough to help the offensive line that may see some more struggles without Waters. If the Cowboys can establish a running game with Murray that will take pressure off Romo, as defensive linemen will have to account for him rather then pinning their ears back and going straight for Romo. Murray being back also helps Dez Bryant. Without a running game its a lot easier for defenses to double Dez Bryant with two deep safeties.
As much as it pains me to say, Miles Austin’s injury has become almost irrelevant to the offense. Terrance Williams has emerged with four straight games with a TD and Cole Beasley has become dangerous in the slot, making Miles Austin much less important. That being said, Miles Austin is still a talented receiver and when healthy is another weapon for Romo. Given the way the Cowboys wide receivers have played, his injury status does not have much of an impact on the offense.
On the defensive side of the ball the most decimated unit has actually been one of the better ones. Jason Hatcher has been one of the deadliest defensive tackles in the league and guys like George Selvie continue to step up. That being said Demarcus Ware, when healthy, is one of the best players in the league. When Demarcus Ware returns to the defensive line it will only improve. Rob Marinelli has done a fantastic job coaching up these no name defensive linemen, but the return of Ware is something that everybody is looking forward too.
JJ Wilcox has been impressive and his play at the safety position will be missed so long as he is out. Thankfully it looks like Barry Church will be able to play. Morris Claiborne is also going to be out against the Vikings. However, even though Carr was absolutely torched by Calvin Johnson, he and Scandrick have out-performed the disappointing Claiborne. Claiborne has been wildly inconsistent this year. Obviously one would rather have him playing than not, but it’s not too devastating of a loss given the way he has played. Fortunately these guys have chosen a good week to be injured with the Minnesota Vikings up next on the schedule. Whether it’s Freeman or Ponder or even Cassel for that matter, a Cowboys defense that has been humiliated more than once this season, should have a sure fire confidence booster against the atrocious Vikings passing game. Unfortunately after this Vikings, it’s the Saints. Life would be a lot better if that match-up could have come after the bye to give these guys more time to get healthy.
Even with all these injuries there is no reason to panic yet. Given the way the NFC East is shaping up even with a 4-4 record, the Dallas Cowboys have time to get healthy and no injury has been serious enough to make them as bad as the rest of the NFC east.