Cowboys fans better hope for two things: that Morris Claiborne’s patellar tendon injury from last season has healed well, and that the Cowboys’ No. 1 pick in 2012 is ready to start living up to his expectations.
It was one play, and unfortunately that’s all it takes. Orlando Scandrick, arguably the Cowboys’ best corner, went down Tuesday in practice with a right knee injury. Reports say that he was heard saying, “It’s my ACL. I know it. It’s gone.”
Not pretty words. Not good news. But, as they say in football, “Next man up.”
That’s where Claiborne comes in. We don’t know for sure that Scandrick is gone for the season, but if you’ve seen the video of the injury, it’s pretty evident that the ACL was probably torn. Claiborne is the obvious replacement for Scandrick, and that’s not the best news in the world considering how much of a disappointment the former LSU standout has fared in his young Cowboys career.
Now, one must look no further than last year when Sean Lee went down in the off-season and did not play a snap in 2014. The Cowboys defense fared pretty well in his absence, as most predicted doom and gloom before the season started. This team overcame then, and it can overcome now.
The fact is, no one man is a team’s complete defense. But a team’s best cover corner is as close as you’re going to get (unless Lawrence Taylor decides to make a comeback for the Giants or your name is J.J. Watt).
Yes, the Cowboys’ 2014 defense benefited from the best (and most effective) running game in the league last year, and “bend but don’t break” was a perfect way to describe the boys on D. But they were exposed in the playoffs a bit, both by Matthew Stafford for good chunks of the Wild Card Round, and by Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field in the Divisional Round. Make no mistake – the bad NFL rule that took away Dez Bryant’s great catch didn’t lose the game for the Cowboys at Green Bay. They couldn’t stop the Packers throughout the second half. If Bryant’s TD had counted, there is no doubt in my mind that Rodgers would have drove the field and won the game for Green Bay.
Ah, but this year’s defense has something last year’s didn’t – a pass rush. Which can also be a secondary’s best friend. Greg Hardy, Randy Gregory, plus a healthy Demarcus Lawrence gives the Cowboys some considerable weapons on the defensive line, and a possible pain in the you-know-what for opposing quarterbacks.
The only problem – last year’s run game is gone, thanks to DeMarco Murray flying off to Philadelphia. Nothing from watching the Cowboys’ two preseason games gives any indication that the running game will be fine this season.
Maybe it won’t matter. Maybe that improved pass rush is just what Claiborne needs. His D-line may allow him to only cover a wide receiver for six or seven seconds, rather than 10 or 11 (which is a huge difference). He had a very good pass rush at LSU and perhaps was the key to why his draft stock was so high three years ago.
Nonetheless, he better be able to step up. Because it’s what the Cowboys are facing. Scandrick was a difference maker. So is Sean Lee, who is back from his own torn ACL.
So it’s time for “next man up.” Either that, or it might be “game, set, match.”