With some time off to think about things, good and bad, we present our weekly Beat Writers Report, a few days late.
When Lance Dunbar undergoes season-ending left knee surgery to repair ligament damage, it marks another key player lost to the Cowboys in 2013. We can start in training camp when the team lost defensive end Tyrone Crawford to a torn Achilles. Crawford was supposed to be a key reserve. Ben Bass, another defensive end, is lost to shoulder surgery. Anthony Spencer, the projected starter at defensive end, played only one game before his knee problems worsened. Spencer underwent microfracture surgery. Brian Waters morphed into a starting right guard for the Cowboys before tearing his left triceps, ending his season. Of course the Cowboys lost defensive tackle Jay Ratliff because he didn't recover in enough time from his complex groin surgery. On the season, the Cowboys have lost six key players to season-ending injuries. That's hard to overcome in some ways.
Terrance Williams had a stretch where he caught a touchdown pass in four consecutive games. But it seems that he has slumped afterward. He had just four catches over a three-week span while defenses put the clamps down on fellow wideout Dez Bryant and Miles Austin sat on the sidelines nursing a hamstring injury. Williams might have broken out of his slump against the Oakland Raiders with his three-catch, 23-yard performance. Williams hadn't had more than three catches in a game since Oct. 20 and he seemed to run better routes and was more engaged in the game.
When J.J. Wilcox recovered from a sprained knee there was a thought he would regain the starting job from Jeff Heath who has struggled in pass coverage. The Cowboys have maintained Heath's starting role, giving Wilcox defensive snaps off the bench. Heath is a willing tackler and is getting better in the passing game, but it's scary to see him out there in deep coverage. Wilcox is a better player yet there is a comfort level in using Heath right now as the starter. With some solid quarterbacks scheduled to face Dallas -- Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers in particular -- it might be time to place Wilcox in a starting role again because he's an improvement over Heath in pass coverage.
Dez Bryant has fumbled eight times the past two seasons and he's got four games remaining this season. Why is he fumbling? Well, you could say his physical style of play benefits him and hurts him. Defenders know he's hard to bring down so instead of tackling him, they go for the strip. Bryant normally has the ball close to his body, but defenders are attacking the ball while he's on the move in forcing the fumbles. Bryant should take a page out of Austin's playbook. When Austin makes a catch and is about to get tackled, he puts both arms around the ball to prevent any fumbles.
In the last four weeks of the season, here are my Pro Bowl contenders: Tyron Smith at left tackle, Bryant at wide receiver, Jason Hatcher at defensive tackle, and if we had this position, but we don't anymore, Dwayne Harris as kick returner. Orlando Scandrick should also get some consideration, but the Cowboys' pass defense has been horrific this season. Heading into the Raiders game, the Cowboys ranked 31st against the pass. Jason Witten at tight end is another player having a nice season but might not get in.