Oh, what a wonderful season it has been for Cowboys fans. Well, at least a wonderful final three months. Give credit where credit is due: Jason Garrett has made some gutsy moves that have paid off immensely. Whether you like him or not, that is an undeniable fact. However, Garrett is neither the sole reason nor even the main reason for the Dallas Cowboys’ incredible end-of-the-year run. This credit goes to the Dallas Cowboys’ bench.
Stars have been emerging for the past few years. Quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott are becoming a foundation for the franchise to be built upon. Yet still, with these cornerstones, the Cowboys have failed to produce a playoff win. Until this year. So what changed?
For starters, wide receiver Amari Cooper came around. Sure, he wasn’t a bench player, but technically he didn’t start for the Cowboys at the beginning of the season. Never mind the fact that the Cowboys traded the Oakland Raiders a 2019 first round draft pick for Cooper at the trade deadline. The point is that Cooper showed up and showed out, giving the Cowboys a much-needed tune-up. His speed and ability to make defenders miss, matched with finally being in the right environment, turned Cooper into one of the most effective receivers in the league. Through only nine games with the Cowboys, Cooper racked up 795 yards on 53 receptions and six touchdowns, averaging 80.6 yards per game, per Pro Football Reference. What sets Cooper apart though is how he utilizes his 4.2 40-yard dash speed to get separation and yards after the catch. Cooper averages 1.71 yards of separation per route and 3.8 yards after catch per reception, numbers the Cowboys have not consistently seen since the glory days of Dez Bryant and Terrell Owens.
Upon deeper analysis, there are other players who came out of nowhere who also had profound impacts on the Dallas Cowboys’ gameplay. Notably, rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch came out of the blue to fill the gap left by injury-prone linebacker Sean Lee. An astounding season set Vander Esch as a top candidate for Rookie Defensive Player of the Year, and he’s had help.
Left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo hasn’t exactly had a breakout season, but when he was called upon, Su’a-Filo answered. And when injuries racked up, taking out defensive ends Tyrone Crawford and David Irving, All-Pro right guard Zack Martin, defensive end Randy Gregory, tight end Geoff Swaim, and others became cornerstone contributors to the squad. Also, left tackle Cameron Fleming, right guard/center Adam Redmond, and tight end Blake Jarwin stepped up to the plate. And boy, did they hit it out of the park.
The Cowboys put another check in the “win” column last Saturday against an excellent Seattle Seahawks team, but they did it with nearly all of their starters healthy and game-ready. Going into the Divisional Round against an even-better Los Angeles Rams, led by masterful head coach Sean McVay, it appears that Dallas will be without many starters, or at the very least will have several that are limited. You can view a full list of current Cowboys injuries here.
Those same players who were surprised to line up amongst starters during the regular season may very well find themselves being the difference makers in some of the most important games of their careers– where performance can be nothing short of perfection. Failure cannot be an option for these players as they look to take down one of the NFL’s top teams in their continued vie for the crown.
This week, the Dallas Cowboys will truly be put to the test. Will the benchwarmers turn up the heat, or will the Cowboys find themselves in an offseason that came far sooner than they wished for? Watch and see, but momentum favors Dallas for the time being. Here’s hoping it takes them all the way to February…
How do you think the Cowboys’ role players have done this season? Are there other under-the-radar players that have had an impact? Feel free to give your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below!