Ability to adjust on the fly is one reason for Cowboys' success

FRISCO, Texas -- An offseason of planning can go awry quickly in the NFL.

On the first play of Sunday's season-opening win against the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrance Williams sprained an ankle.

After nine defensive snaps, cornerback Orlando Scandrick's night was over because of a broken hand that required surgery Monday. He was replaced in the slot by second-year cornerback Anthony Brown, and Chidobe Awuzie, who was limited for the second half of training camp because of a hamstring strain, moved into Brown's role as the third corner.

On the Cowboys' second drive, with Williams getting examined in the locker room, his replacement, Brice Butler, made a diving 30-yard catch of a Dak Prescott throw that ultimately led to a Dan Bailey field goal.

In the fourth quarter, Brown intercepted an Eli Manning pass intended for Roger Lewis Jr. that effectively closed out the Cowboys' 19-3 win.

"It's the next man up," safety Byron Jones said.

It wasn't just the in-game changes the Cowboys had to make on the fly. They have had to adjust to a number of situations that have come up since training camp.

In the preseason, the Cowboys lost starting middle linebacker Anthony Hitchens for at least the first five games of the regular season because of a tibial plateau fracture. Jaylon Smith, who had not played a real football game in nearly 600 days because of a knee injury so severe some thought he would never play again, had to start and played 36 of 56 defensive snaps. He finished with seven tackles and a forced fumble.

Chaz Green, who had four games and two starts (both at left tackle) of experience in his career, started at left guard. La'el Collins, whose 14 career starts all came at left guard, made his first start at right tackle. They helped lead Ezekiel Elliott to 104 yards rushing.

Tyrone Crawford did not play in a preseason game and barely practiced in training camp because of a severely sprained right ankle. He started at left defensive end and played 41 snaps against the Giants. Two expected regulars on the defensive line, David Irving and Damontre Moore, are suspended.

At the end of the New York game, the Cowboys' defensive line consisted of two starters (DeMarcus Lawrence and Maliek Collins), one player who missed last season because of injury (Charles Tapper) and one player who was not on the team until Sept. 3 (Brian Price).

They helped limit the Giants to 13 first downs, 233 yards and three points.

"I am really proud of what these guys have done," owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. "I told Jason [Garrett] that this is the most enthusiastic group. They had more fun and energy in the preseason games than any team I've ever been associated with during my time with the Cowboys."

In 2015, the Cowboys lost Tony Romo to a broken left collarbone twice and won only once in 11 games without him to finish 4-12. They didn't handle what Garrett calls the "adversities of the season" well.

They lost seven games in a row without Romo. They started four different quarterbacks during the season. They did not have players such as Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain because of suspensions at the start of the season. Going back to training camp that year, they lost Scandrick for the season to a knee injury.

In 2014, the Cowboys lost their best defensive player, Sean Lee but responded with a 12-4 record and an NFC East title.

In 2016, the Cowboys lost Romo to a compression fracture in his back in the preseason and had to start a rookie fourth-round pick in Dak Prescott. They finished as NFC East champs and had the conference's best record (13-3).

"The best teams in this league, they handle the adversity within games, from game to game and over the course of the season better than other people," Garrett said. "We simply didn't do that [in 2015]. You just have to resolve to be mentally tough and handle whatever the situations are to go be your best and respond to them. We did a better job of that last year, and obviously that's what you try to do each and every day."