IRVING, Texas -- It’s only Week 2 and so many things to wonder, like how the Dallas Cowboys will replace Dez Bryant over the next four, six, eight, whatever-it-takes weeks after the receiver had foot surgery Monday night.
Away we go:
This is not meant as a slight to Bryant by any means. He is one of the two or three best receivers in the NFL. He is one of the biggest reasons why the Cowboys' offense can be great. In his absence I still believe the offense can be good. But I wonder if the Cowboys will have a more difficult time replacing Randy Gregory than replacing Bryant. Again, I’m not saying Gregory is a better player than Bryant. He’s not. It’s not even close. But in terms of the roster, the Cowboys do not have another pass-rusher like Gregory. They don’t have another receiver like Bryant either, but they have Tony Romo, who can make the passing game work. Without Gregory -- and Greg Hardy -- the pass rush will look a lot like it did last season. We haven’t seen enough work from players like DeMarcus Lawrence, Ryan Russell or Jack Crawford to suggest the Cowboys can get to the quarterback. Gregory is only a rookie, but the Cowboys were looking at him like a major player.
I’m not making any snap judgments off Week 1. You can only look foolish, but I wonder how Philadelphia can justify the money it is paying DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews and only playing them 33 and 16 snaps, respectively, against Atlanta. Murray was in on 33 of 74 snaps. He had eight carries for 9 yards and four catches for 11 yards and scored twice. Murray averaged nearly 50 snaps a game last season for the Cowboys. He wasn’t going to come off the field and the Cowboys didn’t want him to come off the field. These things have a way of working themselves out over a 16-game season, but if you’re paying big money for a player you want bang for your buck. The Cowboys just gave Tyrone Crawford a $10 million signing bonus. He played 44 of 62 snaps and had a sack and two tackles for loss. You can argue he needs to play more as well.
I’ve wondered before about making Gavin Escobar more of a receiver than tight end. We saw James Hanna return to his role as the second tight end with Jason Witten after missing three preseason games with a knee injury and Escobar play nine snaps. Yes, he caught a touchdown but he played nine snaps. He is not an on-the-line tight end. He can be factor in the passing game down the seams and in the red zone. He has a great catch radius. He doesn’t possess great speed, but he’s fast enough to present problems. If you’re looking for a guy to take up some of the slack for Bryant, Escobar can be in that mix.
I wonder if I’ve overlooked Anthony Hitches for far too long. Jason Garrett didn’t like the term I used in describing Hitchens on Monday - a gamer – but the second-year linebacker went from barely seeing the field in training camp to being one of the Cowboys most effective defenders against the Giants. I should have remembered last year’s playoff run where he played through a high ankle sprain. His ability to play all three linebacker spots is a huge plus. Garrett might not like the term, but I’m sticking with it: Hitchens is a gamer.
I wonder what this week would have been like had the Cowboys lost to New York. Imagine the consternation over losing Bryant and Gregory, the running game and the lack of takeaways, and then add that to going to Philadelphia. This would have been a far different reaction than the Cowboys losing last year’s season opener to San Francisco with a much friendlier visit to Tennessee in Week 2. The Eagles had their bad and great moments in their loss to Atlanta on Monday. To think the Cowboys’ trip to Lincoln Financial Field will be easy is foolish.