Sullivan: Unlike Last Year, Cowboys Can Win Despite Injuries

Some of the thoughts that run through an oversized, bald head:

  • Never mind who the competition was, here's what the Cowboys have proven: They can win with some of their better players sidelined. That right there, that singular sentence, is what separates the upper tier from those teams looking for new head coaches every two years. The Vikings are 3-0 minus their franchise quarterback, their All-World running back and Pro Bowl left tackle, among others. The Patriots are undefeated minus Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.
  • That's what the Cowboys have done thus far. Might not sound like much, but it's a really big deal with what this team has done the last three or four years. It's the NFL, there're going to be injuries. Find a way to win. That "next man up" mentality is fine to say, much more difficult to prove a reality.
  • There's some misconception out there about Ronald Leary, who appears to be the starting guard for at least the next month or so, if not longer. The Cowboys were never entertaining trading him before the season. First off, stop and think about it. Makes zero sense. They would be receiving draft picks, right? Why would you give up a season of Leary for a guy who wouldn't join the team until 2017? Explain why anyone would do this. And to his credit, Leary hasn't been a distraction. Sure, he wants to start. Name a guy in the NFL who is content to be a backup and chances are he's not going to be around long.
  • The way this works is that an agent or even a front office type tells a reporter that another team has interest in Leary, and after a few hours on Twitter and the bait clicks, the story has morphed into the Cowboys are looking to trade Leary. Or the Cowboys are open to trading him. They never were. For this exact reason, too.
  • This is a rarity in the NFL. The backup is proven. And based on how Collins was playing so far this season, Leary at his best is actually a better option. Not sure what the deal was with Collins, just wasn't playing at the same level as last year. Thought the guy was ready to become a top-five guard in the league, and maybe that will happen next season.
  • Re-watched the Bears game and Travis Frederick and Zack Martin were tossing dudes around like those strongman competitors throw kegs. Minus Tyron Smith, the offensive line played like their reputation, allowing zero sacks – heck, just one quarterback hit – and opened up some impressive running lanes, the team averaging nearly five yards per attempt. Not going to lie, I am nervous about Smith. Not huge on back injuries for 300-pound men, especially those that force them to miss regular-season games. This isn't taking a practice off in Oxnard.
  • With backs in football (see J.J. Watt) and wrists in baseball, just seems like the player is never what he was before those injuries. Hopefully I'm just being paranoid, but like Collins, Smith just wasn't himself the first two games.
  • Cole Beasley is on pace for 107 receptions for 1,136 yards. The only such season in Cowboys franchise history is Michael Irvin in 1995. Also, the only undrafted players in NFL history to catch 100 passes in a single season are Rod Smith and Wes Welker.
  • Was quite impressed, as I was in the preseason, with rookie Anthony Brown as he took 56 of the 65 defensive snaps with Orlando Scandrick sidelined during the Chicago win. He reminds me a little of Sterling Moore with a bigger upside. Even with the uncertainty of Jaylon Smith and Charles Tapper, this is looking like quite the draft class for the Cowboys.
  • Yes, yes, it's ridiculous early to write that, I know. Tough not to be optimistic, though, as Ezekiel Elliott has shown dramatic improvement just from the first game, Dak Prescott has exceeded the loftiest of expectations, Maliek Collins has made some plays the last two weeks and tight end Rico Gathers is making strides on the practice squad. If Smith is 100 percent this time next year, this group has a real chance at being the most impactful since the 2005 class of DeMarcus Ware, Marcus Spears, Marion Barber III, Chris Canty and Jay Ratliff.
  • The NFC East appears the strongest it has been in at least a decade. Once the pride of the league, Super Bowls galore, nine in a 19-year stretch through the Cowboys last win, it's been a rough go, not even earning a wild-card berth since 2009. The Eagles are 3-0 with for many the most impressive rookie quarterback since Andrew Luck, if not Ben Roethlisberger. My favorite Carson Wentz story is about him watching film on his phone while at dinner with his girlfriend. Reminds me of a Tom Brady story, him throwing passes on an empty field late on a Friday night as a rookie, the only player still at the facility. For the great ones, it's not a job. It's an obsession.
  • Know who has looked infinitely better than anyone was expecting? DeMarco Murray, now playing for the Titans after a disastrous season with Philadelphia. Through three games, he has 377 yards from scrimmage, which is fourth in the league, and he's also averaging 6.0 yards per rush. Was thinking Murray, at 28, was definitely on the back end, but doesn't look that way.
  • Somehow completely missed this back in April and stumbled across it last week. Former Cowboys defensive tackle Jason Hatcher retired after two seasons with Washington. Without question one of my favorite players to talk with over the years, and he finished with a pretty solid 10-year run, totaling 250 tackles and 34.5 sacks. Could see him being a successful position coach, probably more so at the college level.
  • It's difficult to gaze into that crystal ball and predict where the Cowboys are headed. The schedule is certainly friendly through Week 9 – anytime you play Blaine Gabbert and the Browns in a five-game stretch is a positive. Win this Sunday and that's a 3-1 start almost no one saw coming once the Tony Romo injury was announced. Lot of reason for optimism. No reason at all the Cowboys can't be 5-3 or 6-2 at the halfway mark. At this point, would say 4-4 would be disappointing.
  • The game plan isn't a secret – even without Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith, which looks likely – and we all know Dallas has been a much better road team than at home the past three seasons. Chip Kelly is 3-7 in his last 10 games as a head coach, 8-14 going back a little further. Am thinking the Dallas defense forces two turnovers, highlighted by a pick-6 by Morris Claiborne, Zeke has another 100-yard game and the Cowboys win, 27-13.

Check out Jeff Sullivan's column each week in Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. Find out more at DallasCowboys.com/star. You can also follow Jeff on Twitter, @SullyBaldHead, or email him at jsullivan@dallascowboys.net.

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