Difference in these Cowboys? Handling injuries

IRVING, Texas -- So far the Dallas Cowboys have been able to withstand injuries, big and small.

The fractured right foot suffered by right tackle Doug Free, however, is the first injury on the offensive side of the ball, except for the few snaps Dez Bryant missed in Week 2 against the Tennessee Titans because of a bruised shoulder.

The defensive injuries started in May when Sean Lee was lost for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Cornerback Morris Claiborne went down for the year against the New Orleans Saints with a torn patellar tendon. Linebacker Bruce Carter will miss his third straight game with a strained quadriceps. Rolando McClain has missed one game with a groin strain. Justin Durant missed two games with a groin strain.

But the Cowboys were able to play along with Sterling Moore filling in as the third corner after Claiborne's injury. Anthony Hitchens has started games at all three linebacker spots. Kyle Wilber has seen time at strong-side linebacker.

Henry Melton has not missed a game with a hamstring strain, but Tyrone Crawford has inserted into the starting lineup and flourished at defensive tackle.

The Cowboys are doing something this year they have not been able to do in the past. Win games? Well, yeah, but they have been able to withstand injuries.

That's what the good teams do. Jason Garrett has long preached the next-man-up philosophy, just like every other coach in the NFL has. It's just taken time for the Cowboys to have the next man up actually be worthy.

The Cowboys had to go through 20 defensive linemen last year not just because of injuries. They had to do so because a lot of the replacements were ineffective.

Jermey Parnell will replace Free as the starter at right tackle. Back in 2009, Free replaced an injured Marc Colombo, starting the first games of his career. The Cowboys' offense did not suffer. They won five of their final seven games with Free keeping the offensive line solid.

That's what Parnell will have to do in Free's absence. He has started two games in his career but has mostly played in short-yardage and goal-line situations as an extra tight end. He will go from playing three-five snaps a game to 50-60 snaps a game.

There is no time for him to feel his way through the spot. He has to be ready immediately, like he was when he took over for the injured Free against the Seattle Seahawks. On his first snap, DeMarco Murray ran for the game-winning touchdown.

“Jermey is going to step in there and do his job,” Garrett said. “The guys will communicate and work together. That's what happens in this league. Guys get hurt. Sometimes you don't have them available to you. The next guy has got to step in there.”

So far the Cowboys haven't seen a drop-off.