The author of *America's Team: The Official History of the Dallas Cowboys, Sullivan also writes a new column in each issue of Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. For subscription information, please click here.*
So this is going to sound sort of, kind of ridiculous. At least when first processing the words, so just hear me out.
Dez Bryant, All-Galaxy wideout, seemingly headed for yet another career year, lost for four to six weeks (maybe longer), more than likely at least until the next Giants game after the bye week. This is catastrophic. The roof, which is seemingly always closed at AT&T Stadium, was definitely falling, fantasy teams around the globe were finished and the Cowboys would struggle to remain at .500 before his return.
At least this was the reaction of many in the media and fan base. The truth is, as spectacular and brilliant a football player as Dez is, and for me, he's on the short-list of elite receivers in the game, him missing a month or whatnot really isn't a big deal. Dez is a luxury item for this offense, kind of like having a pool on lakefront property, or having high-end beer in college. I mean, the end result is more or less the same.
And the Cowboys offense is going to score points. With or without Dez. It might not look as snazzy and awe-inspiring. No one is jumping 11 feet and catching balls one-handed, but at the end of the fourth quarter, 27, 28, 35 points are going to be on the scoreboard.
If someone asked me before Sunday's kickoff to name the most indispensable players on the offense, the list would be, in order: 1) Tony Romo; 2) Tyron Smith; 3) Zack Martin; 4) Jason Witten; 5) Dez and 6) Travis Frederick.
Offenses are successful because of the quarterback immediately followed by the offensive line. Witten is the rare exception as a non-QB skill position because he blocks like a sixth lineman, and runs better routes than more or less anyone on the planet. He's still the most valuable all-around tight end in the game.
This is not a knock on Dez. Many will perceive it that way because, well, that's what we do nowadays. If someone isn't the best, the most important, the most beautiful, than someone is dissing him or her.
Dez has 14 career 100-yard games. In those, the Cowboys are 7-7. Dez has 13 career multi-touchdown games. In those, the Cowboys are 5-8. Again, this isn't a slight against him, just saying that if the offensive line, the running game, Romo and the defense do its part, this team is going to be successful.
For me, the biggest injury the Cowboys suffered against the Giants was rookie defensive end Randy Gregory. What this team needs most to reach that next level, that elite top-tier level, is a pass rush. And with Greg Hardy out for another three games, the rookie second-round pick was supposed to be the team's most explosive player on the edge. And he was before his injury against the Giants.
Watching the game a second time, Gregory was in the backfield a bunch, and while he wasn't credited with a tackle, he tallied three hurries and a hit on Eli Manning. The much-maligned Giants game manager dropped back 38 times against the Cowboys, and the pass rush mustered just three quarterback hits and a sack. It was improved from a season ago, but still nowhere near where it needs to be.
Gregory looked better than even the highest of expectations during training camp and the preseason, to the point that the majority, myself included, predicted him to win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. For those who watched the Falcons-Eagles game Monday night, the lack of pass rush against Matt Ryan was really the difference, as much as everyone wants to talk about DeMarco Murray. Somehow, someway, for the Cowboys to enter that bye week with a winning record, they have to create a pass rush.
The next four opposing quarterbacks are Sam Bradford, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Tom Brady. And Hardy doesn't return until the Patriots visit in Week 5. That puts immense pressure on Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence to create some pressure.
As for the offense minus Dez, Lance Dunbar will continue seeing 8-10 targets per game out of the backfield. That wasn't a fluke in the opener. Witten is going to see more balls, wouldn't be surprised if he flirted with 100 receptions this season after just 64 in 2014.
There are some misconceptions with how the offense is going to change. I don't think Cole Beasley's role changes. He's a slot option. He's not lining up as the "X" or the "Y." And yes, Terrance Williams is the No. 1 receiver now, that's obvious, but much like Beasley, I don't see his targets drastically changing. And he's going to be seeing a little more attention than he did previously.
As for second-year wideout Devin Street, we just haven't seen what he's capable of contributing. The team still is hopeful of him playing a role, and he's going to be given every chance, but hard to imagine the Cowboys not bringing in a veteran.
So while the bulk of the attention the last day or so has been on Dez, fans should be just as worried about the loss of Gregory. This offense is going to score points with or without their star wide receiver. The pass rush is this team's bigger issue.