IRVING, Texas – For starters, it feels good to put an Irving dateline on a story once again. London was great, but we all know what it's like to get back to normalcy again.
One of the things that really stood out to me from the game, and it's actually something I've been noticing for a few games now, is that the Cowboys might really have something with this rookie linebacker Anthony Hitchens.
If you think about it, every time he gets a chance to play, especially in the middle, he's more than taking advantage.
In the two games Rolando McClain has missed this year, Hitchens has recorded 22 tackles combined, which included an impressive fourth-down tackle in a Week 3 win against St. Louis that helped change the game. That performance earned him NFL Pepsi Rookie of the Week honors, an award that usually goes to an offensive player.
Then this past game, after McClain didn't practice all week, Hitchens got the start in the middle once again and showed a couple of nations that he can be a difference-maker on the field. Against the Jags, he was all over the field.
Just ask Cecil Shorts, who is a wide receiver by the way. Shorts had already beaten Brandon Carr on a slant, then eluded a couple of defenders and didn't see anyone else in his way for what could've been a 91-yard touchdown. But Hitchens isn't just a big-hitter. He can run to the football, even if it's running away from him.
The play Hitchens made to chase Shorts down wasn't just an impressive effort that was reminiscent of Bruce Carter fetching Julio Jones in Atlanta a couple of years ago. No, this play was actually somewhat game-changing as he stopped a touchdown. On the next snap, Jacksonville fumbled the ball away and the Cowboys were able to recover and eventually add a touchdown for a 24-7 halftime lead.
All because Hitchens ran down a starting wide receiver.
The funny thing is, Cowboys fans are already asking about next year's linebacker corps because of McClain's ability, coupled with the expected return of Sean Lee. The idea is that Lee can move over to the weak side, a spot that should potentially benefit him in the long run, especially considering his injury history.
Then again, the Cowboys still have to re-sign McClain if that's the route they want to go. Plus, Lee would be a pretty expensive weak-side linebacker.
But now Hitchens might be thrown into the mix as the ultimate wild card. Sure, Jason Garrett has said numerous times about getting the three best linebackers on the field, but that's easier said than done. Hitchens is already showing that he's vastly different in the middle than on the outside.
And who knows, maybe we'll see the same from Lee if he gets moved out there, too. We could be in a situation where this scheme just allows the middle linebacker to flourish more so than the outside guys.
And do you want another curve? What if, and here's a big if, but what if the Cowboys decide to perhaps switch schemes back to the 3-4? That wouldn't happen unless Rod Marinelli went somewhere else.
At this point, I wouldn't think the outside rushers would be in place for that, but we know there would be some capable guys in the middle.
It's still early on Hitchens, but you have to be impressed with what we've seen so far. The Cowboys were somewhat criticized for drafting him in the fourth round because the "experts" thought he could be picked later on. What the Cowboys saw was a physical, instinctive player who knows how to get to the ball, and then deliver the boom as well.
He's still an improving player, but at this rate, Hitchens might give the Cowboys some serious long-term options.