After an eventual offseason of injuries, the Dallas Cowboys pinned two young rookies to immediately start at running back and quarterback to begin the 2016 season. Former first-round pick Ezekiel Elliott and fourth-round pick Dak Prescott have since orchestrated one of the top offenses in the NFL up to this point.
Dallas is riding high on a four-game win streak (which is impressive in itself), but they’ve done this without key players such as wide receiver Dez Bryant, quarterback Tony Romo, and cornerback Orlando Scandrick. In the midst of it all, they’ve also endured several injuries to the offensive line, causing quite the game of musical chairs during practice.
However, it’s not always rainbows and butterflies surrounding an organization that’s winning football games. In 2015, it seemed impossible for the Cowboys to pull together any type of offense when Bryant and Romo were sidelined with injuries. Now that Dallas has learned to win without them in 2016, suddenly they’re not welcomed back?
Cowboys Blitz staff writers Jonah Tuls and Cami Griffin have started a new series of JAM sessions (Jonah and Cam combined. . . get it?) to deliver each week. In the first JAM session below, all things relevant to the Cowboys impressive start were discussed.
Cami: I’m not sure either of us would have predicted the Dallas Cowboys to be sitting comfortably with a 4-1 record heading into Week 6 of the season without a few of their top players. Now that the Cowboys are coming off a dominant win against a solid Cincinnati Bengals team, the discussions are heating up regarding when and who to bring back from their respective injuries. Even if Dallas is winning without them, why is it so important to have players like Romo, Bryant, and Scandrick return to the starting lineup when healthy?
Jonah: I am stunned that Dallas has already won more games in 2016 without Romo than they did in all of 2015. Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott deserves some credit, as he looks more and more likely to be the future in Dallas. There’s several people who believe Prescott will keep the starting job when Romo is healthy, but fans must understand that this is undoubtedly Romo’s team. Jerry Jones has said it, Jason Garrett has said it, and his teammates know it. “Why halt the momentum and the hot hand in Dak Prescott?” The answer is simple: Romo is the franchise and it’s important to find out what you have left in him. If Romo returns against Philadelphia after the bye week and gets injured again, then I agree that the Romo-era will officially end, but Romo’s knowledge and arm is the only way this team has a shot of being a legitimate contender for the NFC crown. As for Dez Bryant, he is one of the best receivers in the league. Whenever you lose a player of Bryant’s caliber, it is a crushing blow due to the amount of double teams he attracts. I’m confident that Romo, Bryant, and Scandrick would all provide an immediate upgrade over the players currently filling in for them. If you have the chance to improve what you’re doing, why wouldn’t you? Dallas has been resilient through the early stretch of the season with these major injuries, but Cami, does that say more about the talent of the players, or is that an indicator of how good this coaching staff has been in preparing them?
Cami: It’s easy to say that Dallas just simply has better players on the offensive side of the ball this season, but I believe it’s a mixture of both. Obviously players like Prescott have surpassed expectations, but it seems as if the coaching staff learned from the disappointment of handling the quarterback situation in 2015 and are now fitting the offense around Prescott. Although it looks like they’ve simplified the offense to Prescott’s strengths, they’re beginning to be more creative with the play-calling. Tossing the ball to Lucky Whitehead on the second play of the game against a solid run defense of the Bengals made a statement, to me, that the Cowboys were not going to allow an opposing team to force them to be one-dimensional in the air. That’s crucial with a rookie quarterback behind center. When you have a dominant offensive line in front of the league-leading rusher, it makes everyone’s job easier. You could also make a coaching case for the Cowboys “no-name” defense exceeding expectations thus far, as Dallas recently named Joe Baker the new secondary coach in the offseason. Assuming Romo returns during the bye week as planned, how do you believe the Cowboys handle this and/or prepare him to face a tough Eagles opponent in Week 8?
Jonah: I’m sure many would rather have Tony Romo return against the Cleveland Browns the following week, which makes sense, but like you said their target date all along has been the bye week. This is still do-able, considering it’d give Romo nearly two solid weeks of practice if all goes well and he’s able to get back in shape. The Eagles game may be the most important matchup for the Cowboys if the early success of both teams is any indicator of future success, due to playoff implications in the NFC East. However, it won’t allow for Romo to shake off much rust. With that being said, I think Dallas is going to continue to run the ball heavily to help ease Romo back into this offense, setting up some play-action opportunities against a somewhat vulnerable Philadelphia secondary. It was clear when the Cowboys drafted Ezekiel Elliott that they wanted to recreate the winning formula of 2014, as they controlled the time of possession by chalking up long drives and keeping the defense off of the field. This will be no different when Romo returns. The Cowboys could save quite a bit of money on the cap if they decide to let go of Tony Romo and move forward with Prescott this offseason, but if Romo takes this team to the playoffs and shows signs of the elite play we all know he is capable of, would you stick with Romo and be tied to his salary knowing his vast injury history, or would you roll with Prescott?
Cami: That’s tough. Along with the Cowboys coaching staff, I’d need to see the quality of player he still is or isn’t when he returns. Has age caught up to him? Even prior to his most recent back injury, Romo’s physical health has not allowed him to participate in offseason activities. Now that i’m confident Prescott can take over in the future, i’d be content with splitting ways with Romo after the 2016 season. If Romo returns in a few weeks and has an MVP-caliber season as he did in 2014, then i’d assume Dallas makes a deep enough playoff run that Romo’s pleased to walk away after the season on his own. If Romo struggles or gets injured, then the situation takes care of itself. Regardless of how Romo plays this season, you have to put him on the field to figure out what you have left in him as a player. Currently, Romo is an upgrade of Prescott primarily due to his big-play ability and forcing opposing defenses to respect his arm. Not only is he one of the smartest quarterbacks in the league at the line of scrimmage, but Romo would also be able to beat a good team through the air if Dallas isn’t able to establish the run. . . something i’m not sure Prescott is able to accomplish yet.