FRISCO, Texas – My gosh, how much must one team endure.
It's one thing to suffer injuries. I get it. It's football. Yet, this seems extreme, losing these starters for the season if we start with Travis Frederick retiring: Dak Prescott, Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Blake Jarwin and Trysten Hill.
Then these starters temporarily: Leighton Vander Esch, Zack Martin, Andy Dalton, Sean Lee, Chidobe Awuzie, Joe Looney, Trevon Diggs, Tyler Biadasz, Cam Erving, Brandon Knight, Jourdan Lewis, Anthony Brown and Chris Jones.
Did I miss anyone?
Throw in this entire COVID-19 pandemic, claiming Dalton for one game and placing every organization on pins and needles.
And now this: Cowboys strength and conditioning coordinator Markus Paul tragically passing away, suffering a medical emergency Tuesday in his office here at The Star that landed him on life support, according to his daughter Tabitha Clairee's Facebook post. After Cowboys owner Jerry Jones helped facilitate bringing family members into town, the 54-year-old member of this organization these past three years peacefully passed away early Wednesday evening.
The day before Thanksgiving.
The day before the 3-7 Cowboys play the 3-7 Washington Football Team, the winner in this upside-down absurd season jumping into first place in the NFC East.
Real life intruding on the games we play. Yeah, Paul is a player and a coach to us. But remember, he's a husband, a father, an uncle, a friend to so many more.
As many of us have experienced during our lives, death knows no timing, and why we must be thankful for the people we have in our lives.
By my count there are 49 players on this Cowboys roster, practice squad and injured reserve no more than 25 years old. Good chance this is an emotional scar not many of them have ever suffered with someone so young.
But now there is a football game to be played, and please understand how close players grow to those guys on the strength and conditioning staff. With the exception of this offseason, Markus is like the head coach for these guys at the start of the offseason workouts when the head coach and position coaches aren't allowed to supervise workouts. Ask any player, now or back then. They become closely attached to the person who has their best interests in mind.
He's the whole team's coach in April and May.
Focus, more than anything on Thanksgiving Day for these Cowboys, will be the key to this game.
Oh, I could belabor how the Cowboys offensive line must play better than it did the first time around against Washington in that 25-3 loss. And if all goes well between now and kickoff, those guys will have a chance with Zack Martin playing this time and a good possibility the same five will be starting in consecutive games for the first time in eight games.
That's a start there, since last time the Cowboys had two guys starting on that line for the first time this season, and one of those, Connor McGovern, starting for the first time in his NFL career. Plus starting two rookies. And we then wondered afterward why the Washingtons recorded six sacks, eight QB hits and seven TFLs.
We could focus on the defensive improvement of late, making plays, figuring out how to the play the run the past three games, and that will be a must seeing Washington ran for 208 yards against the Cowboys in Game 7 of the season. And to think, even with the 2-0-8, they still are averaging just 99.1 rushing yards a game.
Also, can the Cowboys win two games in a row – like two in five days – continue the balance on offense they displayed Sunday in the victory over Minnesota, gaining 180 yards rushing on 31 carries and Dalton throwing for 203 yards on 32 attempts.
And hopefully it's not asking too much to give their secondary a break by putting undo pressure on Washington quarterback Alex Smith, seeing that the Football Team has suffered 32 quarterbacks sacks in 10 games.
All that would be great. You can practice that stuff. But just where will these guys' minds be, and that's the chore head coach Mike McCarthy must attempt to make get straight.
You know, it's one thing last Saturday night in Minneapolis to jack your players up by smashing watermelons with a sledgehammer during the team meeting.
It's another thing tonight to take a shot at soothing your players' hurting souls.
- Call Ups: It makes sense for the Cowboys to call up practice squad center Adam Redmond to the roster for Thursday's game since, with Joe Looney starting and Tyler Biadasz placed on injured reserve (hamstring), they really did not have a true backup center on the 53. But the fact that the Cowboys also have elevated practice squad cornerbacks Rashard Robinson and Deante Burton raises a red flag on the availability of starting corner Anthony Brown, limited all week with a rib injury and listed as questionable on today's game status report.
- Hail Woody: So here is the very reason why Darren Woodson is being named one of the 25 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2021 semifinalists for the FIFTH time. In a story listing the attributes of those 25, here is the hollow description of Woody: S Darren Woodson (1992-2003 Dallas Cowboys), 23 career interceptions, won 3 Super Bowls with Cowboys (XXVII, XXVIII, XXX). That's it. And as we all know, Woody is so much more than two stats. Geezus.
- Our World: Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has this theory that you must assume every person you come in contact with has COVID-19, so be cautious. Well, Wednesday the Washington Football Team had to post this release: "In the last 24 hours we have learned that Dan and Tanya Snyder and Team President Jason Wright came in contact with a person, not affiliated with the team, who has tested positive for COVID. Dan and Tanya and Jason have all tested negative at this time for the virus and their contact with this individual was limited. However, due to team and NFL protocols, they will not be traveling to the game tomorrow against Dallas on Thanksgiving. The safety of our team and our staff is a top priority, and we will continue to closely monitor the situation."
This seems to be becoming a habit, but for good reason the last word once again goes to Jones: "The loss of a family member is a tragedy, and Markus Paul was a loved and valued member of our family. He was a pleasant and calming influence in our strength room and throughout The Star. His passion for his work and his enthusiasm for life earned him great respect and admiration from all of our players and the entire organization. We offer our love and support to his family in this very difficult time. Our hearts are broken for his family and all of the individuals whose lives he touched and made better."