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Spagnola: Cowboys Stretching Limits Of Next Guy Up

Posted Oct 18, 2013


IRVING, Texas – This all has gotten to the point of incomprehensible, this swelling list of MIAs along the Cowboys defensive line.

It’s long and painful.

Anthony Spencer.

Jay Ratliff.

Tyrone Crawford.

Ben Bass.

Rob Calloway.

Sean Lissemore (traded).

Now Edgar Jones, Friday placed on recallable injured reserve.

Now DeMarcus Ware, doubtful for Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles, but not without a ray of hope.

Jason Hatcher playing through the after-effects of a stinger.

George Selvie trying to play through a sore shoulder.

         And if we want to be technical with this list, the group of defensive linemen also lost in less than a 12-month period would include Josh Brent and Jerry Brown, a guy I’m told would have been in the mix at defensive end and was close to being added to the 53-man roster last year before the unfortunate December accident with Brent behind the wheel that took his life.

Can picture Jason Garrett walking out of the training room, outstretched arms, palms up, saying to no one in particular, “What the *!$&.”

Same as you.

A mess, but you must soldier on. As the Cowboys head coach is wont to say, “No one is feeling sorry for you,” the least of whom being the equally 3-3 Philadelphia Eagles, playing unwelcoming hosts on Sunday at The Linc, with first place in the NFC East on the line.

Geesh, the Eagles come into the game with the NFL’s top-ranked rusher, LeSean McCoy with 630 yards and averaging 5.1 yards a carry. That’s the most yards rushing after six games than any back in the Eagles’ long history. They have the No. 1 rushing offense, averaging 178.5 a game. They are only the fourth team in NFL history to rack up at least 400 yards in each of their first six games.

Oh, and let’s not forget DeSean, right? Wide receiver DeSean Jackson, he of five touchdown receptions and averaging like 17.3 yards a catch. And while many might have been taking a deep sigh of relief with quarterback Michael Vick saying he’s not starting yet and being listed as only questionable for Sunday, the backup, Nick Foles, has a 127.9 passer rating in his absence – six touchdowns, no interceptions. And while the Cowboys did beat the Eagles twice in 2012, the rookie Foles who relieved Vick in the first game and started the second did complete 49 of 66 passes for 460 yards, two touchdowns and one interception against the Cowboys.

So on one hand you have “Shady” McCoy to worry about, and on the other you likely have Foles, a better pure passer than Vick.

Great.

And here is what you are going to trot out on that defensive line not named Hatcher, the only projected starter heading into training camp still standing:

Nick Hayden, signed Feb. 11, already having started six games – six more than he even played last year.

George Selvie, signed July 26, already having started six games – six more than he ever had during his previous three-year, 36-game NFL career.

Kyle Wilber, last year’s fourth-round pick who played 48 snaps in place of Ware against the Redskins, more than he probably played his entire rookie season.

Caesar Rayford, traded for Sept. 3, having played his most snaps this past Sunday since just before Memorial Day when his Utah Blaze played the Iowa Barnstormers – that’s the Arena Football League.

Drake Nevis, signed Sept. 24.

Jarius Wynn, signed Tuesday.

Jason Vega, signed to the practice squad Sept. 2, now signed to the 53-man roster Friday, a guy who last played snaps of significance for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers – that’s the Canadian Football League.

If you are scoring at home, that’s then just three guys who have been on the roster since the start of training camp sure of playing Sunday.

As D-Ware said when asked about all the new faces on the defensive line, “I look at the yellow school bus that comes in here and brings the defensive line in here, then I smile about the little LETA bus that goes out and takes them to the Gaylord. Every week, there is a new defensive lineman who comes in here.

 “But they come here, they’re effective, they pick them the right way and they get the job done. If we can stay effective and be consistent, that’s what we ask for.”

No kidding, since most would say, good luck with all that. Your starting four likely will be, from left to right, Selvie, Hayden, Hatcher, Wilber, and please don’t think of those others as backups. They will have to play, and play a considerable amount to counter the speed the Eagles like to play at with their Chip “It-Up” Kelly offense.

And as Garrett says, “Play well.”

Now, somehow this past Sunday, despite Washington totaling 433 yards, 25 first downs and 216 yards rushing, the Cowboys patchwork defense held the Redskins to 16 points – just one touchdown – in the 31-16 victory. Can you logically expect this group to do that again?

That is exactly why scoring points will be at a premium, as high as it was that late Sunday afternoon against the Denver Broncos when not even scoring 48 was enough. This time, with the Cowboys bringing the 30th-ranked defense into the game and the Eagles the 32nd, chances are first one to 30 wins.

Hey, just score. Need to hold serve nearly every possession. And with the Eagles snapping the ball on offense nearly every 15 seconds, three-and-outs must be considered mortal sins. No punting would be advisable.

Always thought to be the strength of this Dallas team, the offense definitely must do the heaving lifting on Sunday if the Cowboys are to win their first road game of the season, their first of four road games in the next five-game stretch and emerge atop the NFC East.

Face it, this should not be asking too much from a team that has scored 36, 31 and 31 in its three victories this season and just 16 and 21 in two of the three losses, totaling just three combined touchdowns in those games. Sensing a correlation there until reaching that third loss when the Cowboys put 48 points on the board and lost, which is somewhat mystifying in a game you would have thought they would have won, the defense giving up 51 to Peyton Manning and the Broncos.

So this team has shown a propensity to score, currently averaging 30.5 points a game, second in the NFL to only, yep, you guessed it, Denver, and have scored no less than 31 in four of the six games. Wow, and in those four games the Cowboys have averaged 36.5 points.

This trend should not be out of the question then when playing the league’s 32nd-ranked defense, although injuries are complicating that situation, too. Running back DeMarco Murray’s sprained knee has kept him out of practice all week, the Cowboys listing him as doubtful for Sunday, meaning rookie Joseph Randle is likely to start his first NFL game after getting his first 11 NFL carries this past Sunday against Washington.

Making matters more tenuous, wide receiver Miles Austin’s hamstring is acting up again. He played for the first time in three weeks against Washington, came back this week to practice on Wednesday, but missed practice these past two days with soreness creeping back into that balky leg. The Cowboys are listing him as probable, but he likely will be a game-day decision.

So, “next guy up” if he can’t go, meaning rookie Terrance Williams likely would get his first NFL non-three-receiver-set start, with the nickel duties belonging to Cole Beasley and Dwayne Harris.

Hmmm, the Cowboys just might be stretching the outer limits of this “next guy up mentality” considering what’s been taking place on the defensive line and now on offense, where undoubtedly quarterback Tony Romo must keep ramping up the offense in the back of his mind, only allowing this incessant need to score creep forward if the Cowboys trail by as many as two scores in the fourth quarter.

“Just have to play each play,” Romo insists, unless of course …

Who knows, maybe there is deeper meaning to the Cowboys staying Saturday night in Valley Forge, Pa., where history buffs will remember the Continental Army’s six-month encampment during the Revolutionary War, somehow under General George Washington’s command surviving horrific conditions, the troops described as “bloody, beaten and battle weary.”

Yet, they persevered.

Wonder if ol’ George himself preached next guy up 236 years ago?

 

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