IRVING, Texas -- It's time for Five Wonders, and we’ll keep them Tony Romo-free because it’s just too easy to wonder about what will happen to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles without their quarterback.
There is no wonder that the Cowboys’ season comes down to another winner-take-all finale.
It now seems preordained, doesn't it?
Away we go:
You will have to take my word for it that this was a wonder before the Romo news broke. I wonder if Jerry Jones gives Jason Garrett a contract extension if the Cowboys win Sunday. Jones keeps the length of the head coach's contract under lock and key but said in training camp that there are “years” left on Garrett’s deal. If Jones wants to show just how much he believes in Garrett, he should give him a contract extension. There’s a feeling that if the Cowboys don’t win Jones will make changes. Does Romo’s injury buy Garrett another year since the Cowboys will not be able to go down firing with their franchise quarterback? Perhaps. But if Garrett can pull this off and get this team to the playoffs, he would deserve a ton of credit. This team has been hit hard by injuries the last two seasons, and yet Garrett has had this team playing for a division title in Week 17 in all three years he has been the full-time coach.
This is sort of Romo-free. It’s about Kyle Orton. I remember there was some mumbling when the Cowboys signed Orton last year and gave him a $5 million signing bonus. How could they sink that kind of money into a player they hoped would never throw a pass? It was a lot of money, especially with the money they were paying Romo, but it’s how Garrett has operated. He had Brad Johnson as Romo’s first backup when he got here in 2007 and then he had Jon Kitna as Romo’s backup. He believes in veteran backup quarterbacks. I wonder now if people see why the Cowboys sunk their money into Orton, who could have competed for a starting job elsewhere in 2012 but chose to come to Dallas. Did it cost the Cowboys depth in other spots? Not really. And now with the season on the line they are not stuck with an unproven player. Imagine if something like this happened in New England and Ryan Mallett had to replace Tom Brady in Week 17. Who would you rather have for a right-here-right-now kind of game? Orton has started 69 games. He knows the game. He can avoid mistakes. Will he? Who knows. But the Cowboys at least feel better than some other teams would with their backup having to play.
I wonder how many yards Eagles running back LeSean McCoy picks up. He had only 55 on 18 carries when these teams first met. It was a dynamite effort from the Cowboys in October at Lincoln Financial Field. McCoy leads the NFL with 1,476 yards rushing, and he gained 133 yards in Sunday’s win against the Chicago Bears. The Cowboys have the league’s 27th-ranked rush defense, giving up 127.9 yards per game on the ground. Sean Lee is unlikely to play because of a neck injury. The only time the Cowboys have really stopped the run since playing the Eagles came on Thanksgiving, when they held the Oakland Raiders to 50 yards on 25 carries. The Cowboys made Alfred Morris work for his 88 yards last week, but Eddie Lacy, Matt Forte, Andre Brown, Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson all went for more than 100 yards on Dallas and Reggie Bush got 92 yards. Considering how porous the pass defense has been, I can see the Cowboys being more worried about Nick Foles, in dying a quick death than dying a slow death with McCoy running.
I wonder how involved Jason Witten will be Sunday. He needs to be heavily involved, but things have been quiet lately. He has not had more than four catches in a game since Nov. 3 against Minnesota (eight catches, 102 yards). But this is why Witten needs to have a big game Sunday: He has manhandled the Eagles in the past. Philadelphia rolled through linebackers unable to stop Witten over the years. He had only four catches for 48 yards in their October meeting, but in 20 career games against the Eagles he has 113 receptions for 1,281 yards and seven touchdowns. He has had four 100-yard games against Philadelphia and 12 games with more than four catches. The last time the Cowboys needed a backup quarterback, Kitna learned quickly to lean on Witten. Orton should do the same.
I wonder if the Foles of the first meeting shows up. That Foles was something awful. The wind was tricky -- even Romo made reference to it -- but Foles completed just 11 of 29 passes for 80 yards before leaving with a concussion. Was he concussed before leaving the game? The Foles since that game has been nothing short of amazing. He tied an NFL record for touchdown passes in a game with seven, and has had three other games with three touchdown passes. Overall, he has 25 touchdown passes and only two interceptions. The Cowboys played mostly man coverage against the Eagles' receivers and he could not fit the throws. He was a backup quarterback then, filling in for Michael Vick. He’s no longer a backup, and that might be a good thing for the Cowboys. We know how Matt Flynn and Josh McCown fared against Dallas earlier in the month.