FRISCO, Texas – Welcome to life in the NFL.
Just this past Saturday, before the other 30 teams played their season openers on Sunday and Monday, here is what was in my morning paper.
- Baltimore: RB Gus Edwards and CB Marcus Peters placed on injured reserve with knee injuries that occurred on back-to-back plays in practice.
- Buffalo: DT Star Lotulelei (calf) ruled out of the season opener and WR Emmanuel Sanders questionable with a foot injury.
- Cleveland: WR Odell Beckham Jr. questionable for the opener.
- Kansas City: S Tyrann Mathieu still in COVID-19 protocol.
- Minnesota: LB Anthony Barr (knee) out for the season opener and LT Christian Darrisaw (groin) out.
- NY Jets: WR Jamieson Crowder still on reverse/COVID-19.
- Tennessee: K Sam Ficken added to the injury report with a groin strain.
- Washington: WR Curtis Samuel placed on IR (groin).
Sure takes a village, more than a 53-man roster and 16 guys on the practice squad, to get through a 17-game season. Heck, to just get to the season opener.
Or in the Cowboys' case, the second game of the season on Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Look, great Zack Martin returns off Reserve/COVID-19. Same for backup offensive lineman Brandon Knight.
But gosh darn it, the Cowboys had to put wide receiver Michael Gallup on IR with a serious calf injury, placing him in a walking boot nearly up to his knee. Then safety Darian Thompson (hamstring) goes on the practice squad IR. Then discover offensive tackle La'el Collins is suspended five games for violation of the league's substance abuse program, and at this point have to think this suspension will stick. Then safety Donovan Wilson misses practice with a recurring sore groin.
Enough? Oh no.
Defensive end Randy Gregory is placed on Reserve/COVID-19, leaving just a slim hope he will clear by Sunday. But then, as if a higher power is telling Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy you just might need 77 guys to get through a season, as he needed in 2010 when the Packers won the Super Bowl, this happens:
DeMarcus Lawrence, the Cowboys other starting defensive end, is listed on Wednesday's official injury report as limited, leaving practice with what is described as a foot injury. But appears Lawrence, who needed help limping off the field, suffered a broken a bone in his foot, and if that is the case, he will miss this upcoming game for sure and be lost for several more weeks while heading to injured reserve.
This is the second foot injury of his now eight-year career. Lawrence missed the first eight weeks of his 2014 rookie season when he suffered a fractured fifth metatarsal of the right foot.
Seriously now, both starting defensive ends potentially out for this game and who knows how long? That would leave the Cowboys without their two best pass-rushing ends, and with remaining defensive ends Dorance Armstrong, Tarell Basham, Bradlee Anae, Chauncey Golston, Azure Kamara and Brett Urban if needed. Those rotation guys have totaled 16 career sacks, 7.5 belonging to Basham and 6 more to Urban. Anae, Golston and Kamara have totaled all of 16 career defensive snaps, all belonging to Anae, and 10 of those in this year's first game.
Thought it was bad timing having to play Tom Brady in the season opener? How about meeting the 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert on Sunday in L.A., the quarterback who went into Washington on Sunday and beat the Washingtons, 20-16, by putting up 424 total yards against that formidable defense?
Now this. Come on, man.
On Guard: Starting to look a lot like Terence Steele is first up in replacing Collins at right tackle and not moving Martin from guard to tackle. Wish that was like some kind of steel instead, since more than likely it will be Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa lining up over the Cowboys' second-year tackle who came into the league undrafted last year and was baptized by fire in 14 starts. While McCarthy says they still are working on a "combination" there, with Steele and eighth-year veteran Ty Nsekhe, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones pronounced Steele the starter on his Tuesday radio segment. Martin showed in two starts last year at right tackle he can do an admirable job out there, but appears the Cowboys are choosing to keep him at guard instead of moving him out to tackle and starting Conner McGovern again at guard. Now, if they are going to do this, then there had better be a tight end in Steele's hip pocket on most every snap, especially definite passing downs. Or motion the guy over, as our teammate Nate Newton suggests, either to chip the defensive end on the way out or just sit there to expand the corner width by blocking on that side.
Brady Bunch: Tom Terrific sure has a bunch of victories over the Cowboys, now totaling six, five with the Patriots and now the opener with the Buccaneers. His 6-0 mark starting against Dallas is an opponent's best with a minimum of five starts, Joe Montana checking in at 5-0, Bart Starr 6-1 and Terry Bradshaw 5-1. All Hall of Famers, and don't tell me I've jumped the gun on Brady.
Here's The Kicker: That the Cowboys signed their released kicker Lirim Hajrullaha to the practice squad is a doubled safety net. First of all, with COVID still spreading rapidly, even among the vaccinated, why not have a backup kicker on hand since you do have a 17-man practice squad? Doesn't hurt a thing. Plus, after Greg Zuerlein's shaky start, missing a 31-yarder and one extra point, spares you the trouble of having a kicking tryout if the veteran kicker doesn't right himself. Oh, and on those short kickoffs, special teams coach John Fassel says those three were on purpose, hoping to cover them better than the two returned 33 yards to the 35 and 41 yards to the 43, that one leading to a two-play Tampa Bay touchdown.
Tripped Up: Like many, you probably were blaming Cowboys' trailing cornerback Anthony Brown for Antonio Brown's 47-yard touchdown pass from Brady on Thursday night. Appeared as if he smoked him by a good 5 yards. Even the NBC broadcast with Al Michael and Cris Collinsworth blamed Brown for the score. Well, Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn provided some clarity on Monday. See, when you can watch the All-22 of the play, Quinn says Anthony Brown was doing his job, in trail technique underneath Antonio Brown and expecting help over the top from the safety, Demontae Kazee. But when Cowboys slot corner Jourdan Lewis tripped on his coverage of Chris Godwin, Kazee abandoned his initial assignment and stepped over to cover a wide-open Godwin. Brown was left hung out to dry, Quinn saying, "We should have had a safety over the top." Then adds, with Kazee caught between a rock and a hard place, "The message of the story, don't trip." And now you know the rest of the story.
Balance This: Had the Cowboys won this game over the Bucs, 29-28, guessing there wouldn't have been all this commotion over their lack of "balance" between run and pass in the game, Dak Prescott throwing the ball 58 times and Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard running the ball on just 14 snaps. After all, the Cowboys did total 451 total yards, Dak throwing for 403 and three touchdowns. But understand this: First of all, Tampa Bay had the No. 1 rushing defense in the NFL last season. Secondly, the Cowboys were without Martin, a sure road-grader at right guard. Next, the Buccaneers were stacking the line of scrimmage with five across, making running the ball like banging your head against the wall. And then this clarity from offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, saying he had called 28 run plays, but Dak, reading the Bucs defense, audibled 12 of those into pass plays, averaging 4.8 yards a play, which is as good as a run. And McCarthy added, some of those passes were RPOs, run-pass options, that Dak elected to pass. Bet no one in Tampa the next morning bemoaned Brady throwing 50 times and the Buccaneers running just 14.
Short Shots: On-going moral to Week 1 of the season? Better score points, 17 teams scoring at least 27 points. Fourteen of those teams won. The Cowboys were one of three losing, Detroit with 33 and Cleveland with 29 not enough … Oh, and about that balance, this is a passing league, nine quarterbacks throwing at least 39 times, with six at least 50 attempts … Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper's 13 reception leads the NFL after Week 1 … How about this for an about face from last year: The Cowboys, a team that struggled with turnover differential, is in a three-way tie for first at plus-3 … But here is one that must make an about face, offense inside the 20, the Cowboys going just one-for-four, 25 percent, with only two teams scoring touchdowns at a lower percentage.
And now the last word goes to McCarthy this week, and needed just three of them when asked about what was the "coaching point" for tight end Blake Jarwin on the third-and-goal at the Bucs 2-yard line when Dak pitches out to Ezekiel Elliott left, a sure walk-in touchdown if Jarwin simply screens off the safety on the line of scrimmage, the miss resulting in a 1-yard loss and Zuerlein's ensuing 21-yard field goal after the Cowboys were first-and-goal at the 8:
"Block the safety."