Before we get started, let me be VERY clear - losing Orlando Scandrick really hurts the Dallas Cowboys. Orlando is the longest tenured player on this defense, and for good reason. He has consistently been one of the best slot cornerbacks in the NFL and the best defensive back on this team. Scandrick was one of just 5 players who was targeted 50+ times in 2014 and didn't give up a single touchdown. In fact, since 2012, Scandrick has given up the same number of touchdowns as Richard Sherman (5). In that same span Darrelle Revis has given up 8 touchdowns, Vontae Davis has given up 11, Joe Haden has given up 16 and Patrick Peterson has given up 21! The Cowboys aren't just losing one of their best players either, they're losing an emotional leader and veteran presence in the locker room. Anytime you lose a Pro Bowl caliber player, which Scandrick is, you're going to have a tough time replacing him. Having said all of that, the Cowboys aren't doomed. Not by a long shot. While the team will definitely miss Scandrick, I believe that they have the necessary pieces in place to overcome his loss. Below, as the Cowboys are set to host the Vikings tonight in a preseason game to serve as a tune-up for the start of the regular season ... my reasoning.
1. More Depth/Talent at Cornerback
If the Cowboys lost Scandrick last season, things would be much different, but the 2015 Cowboys are in a much better position to absorb this kind of blow to their secondary. The team picked up Corey White off waivers from New Orleans and he has been the star of the preseason so far - recording 3 pass breakups and holding opposing QB's to a 50.0 completion % and a 57.8 passer rating. Then the Cowboys selected Byron Jones in the 1st round, the most athletic player (and also one of the smartest) in this year's draft. On top of that, Tyler Patmon has arguably been the most consistent defensive back in training camp and has made huge improvements from his rookie year. He also was an offseason award winner for his incredible work ethic. This guy is ready to see more playing time. Then there is Morris Claiborne, who is fully healthy after suffering a season-ending injury last year. Claiborne has been one of the most pleasant surprises of camp. The talent is clearly there for him, he just needs to stay on the field and continue building up his confidence - which he's been doing so far. Finally we have Brandon Carr, who has had a quiet camp but is looking to carry over his success from the end of 2014. Carr allowed zero touchdowns, had 2 pass breakups and held QB's to a 70.8 passer rating in the final 4 games of the season (including playoffs). Scandrick was the team's best corner, but they still have 5 NFL cornerbacks who can make some plays for them.
2. Vastly Improved Pass Rush
Last year the Cowboys defense had 27 total sacks and their leading pass rusher was Jeremy Mincey. Now there's a chance that their best pass rusher from 2014 will be the 4th or 5th best in 2015. The Cowboys signed en elite pass rusher in Greg Hardy in free agency. Hardy has 26 sacks in his last 2 seasons and 9 sacks in his last 4 games alone. This guy is a game changer. They also drafted Randy Gregory in the 2nd round who has been extremely impressive in training camp and the preseason. They also expect big things from 2nd year DE Demarcus Lawrence after he broke out in their two playoff games last season with 2 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. Then there is Tyrone Crawford who is primed for a huge year after going through a full offseason developing at DT. It's certainly possible that 4 different players on this team could have 7+ sacks - which would give them 1 more than their entire total from 2014. That's not even counting sacks from guys like Jack Crawford, Davon Coleman, Ryan Russell, Ben Gardner, etc. This defensive line has gone from being one of the weak points of the team to one of it's greatest strengths. On paper, this group hast he potential to be one of the more dangerous units in the NFL. If they can get consistent pressure on the QB, it'll make life so much easier for the guys in the secondary - whether Scandrick is back there or not. It all starts up front.
3. Mental Toughness
This team is no stranger to adversity. This team is also no stranger to overcoming adversity - as they did time and time again in 2014. If you think back to last year's OTA's, the Cowboys lost another star defensive player to an ACL and MCL tear in Sean Lee. They also let their two best pass rushers in Ware and Hatcher leave via free agency. On top of that, they lost both Morris Claiborne and Justin Durant to season-ending injuries as well. It seemed like this defense was set up for back-to-back seasons as the 32nd ranked group in the NFL. Not so fast. Rod Marinelli worked his magic and got the best out of his players - finishing the season with the 19th ranked unit - quite a leap from the previous year. If you want more evidence that this is a mentally tough team, just look at their undefeated road record from 2014, including an unlikely win AT Seattle and overcoming a 21-point deficit to beat the Rams in St. Louis. The Cowboys also finished the regular season with 4 straight wins and came from behind to win a dramatic game vs the Lions in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. Regardless of who gets injured or who the Cowboys are playing, one thing is for sure - Jason Garrett will have his guys ready to play and compete every single week.
Now, do those "guys'' include Zack Martin for tonight? CHQ bets not; his stinger might keep him sidelined. Does the list include Dez Bryant? Dez himself tells Fish that he's going to play, but the fact that he was held out of the final workout in Oxnard may say otherwise. Oh, and Jerry says no on Dez tonight, too. And what about the running back position? As with the cornerback position, rumors are everywhere about other bodies ... (Adrian Peterson, by the way, will still be wearing purple but will be sitting as well) but Joe Randle has done nothing to lose his perch at the front of the running-back-by-committee concept ... and short of full health, the same goes for McFadden and Dunbar.
Those guys enduring nagging injuries? As with losing Scandrick, there can be tough pills to swallow. However, this is still a very good team with a lot of other very good players. Injuries are a terrible part of the game, but they're a part of the game nevertheless. The best teams have the talent, depth and toughness to overcome injuries and I think the Cowboys will be able to do just that. We look for proof of that faith tonight.