- Calvin Watkins, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Cowboys are 7-7 following their 37-36 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at AT&T Stadium. With that we have some thoughts going into the Washington game on Sunday in our weekly Beat Writers Report.
The Cowboys are missing middle linebacker Sean Lee, strong side linebacker Justin Durant and weak side linebacker Bruce Carter to injuries. That's the starting lineup in their 4-3 defense. Also, main backup Ernie Sims is hurt. Lee is doubtful for the Redskins game on Sunday and there are questions about Durant, Carter and Sims' availability as well. What to do? DeVonte Holloman can move to middle linebacker, Cameron Lawrence and Kyle Wilber can become outside linebackers again. The Cowboys might give defensive end Martez Wilson a shot at weakside linebacker spot. Then there's Kyle Bosworth, who can also play the middle. The entire group is decimated and while Jerry Jones said losing your top four backers hurt against the Packers, it's going to sting a little longer when he watches the Redskins game. Regardless if any of the injured players return, they won't be 100 percent and some of the backups don't have enough experience to be relied upon to make plays.
How about this starting lineup for the defensive line next year? Kyle Wilber and DeMarcus Ware at ends, a draft pick and Tyrone Crawford at defensive tackle spots. The Cowboys will lose three projected 2013 starters to the line this offseason. Anthony Spencer, who played in just one game, before his knee gave out forcing microfracture surgery, will most likely play for another team and could morph into a situational pass rusher until he becomes completely healthy in 2014. Jay Ratliff is now in Chicago and Jason Hatcher, the third member of the group, who has lasted most of the season, becomes a free agent. It appears Hatcher will play for somebody else. Georg Selive has played well at end in place of Spencer so it wouldn't surprise me if he remains in 2014. So don't get used to this current group along the line because there will be changes.
Funny how everybody wanted to send DeMarco Murray back to his hometown of Las Vegas at midseason. Murray is 10th in the NFL with 977 yards and while the Cowboys are ranked 23rd in rushing offense, it's been a solid season for the offensive line when it comes to the run game. The Cowboys have produced well while running toward either side and other than the big season-ending injury to Brian Waters, who was the starting right tackle, this group has played well and should be given more credit.
While Dez Bryant is the Cowboys' best player and Dan Bailey has produced a MVP-type season, receiver/kick returner Dwayne Harris has been missed due to his health issues. Harris should get MVP votes. Terrance Williams (kick returns) and Cole Beasley (punts) took over for Harris, whose out with a hamstring injury. Williams fumbled the opening kickoff against the Oakland Raiders and took a kick out nearly 10 yards deep against the Packers. If Harris returns, the Cowboys could use his 30.5 yards per gain on kicks and he's sure handed on punt returns with a 14 yards on average.
The best safety on this team is Barry Church, at strong. Despite missing a few tacklers early against the Packers, Church responded with a solid game. He finished with team-leading 11 tackles and one tackle for loss. Now the two other safeties, Jeff Heath and J.J. Wilcox have been equally bad and equally good at times. Wilcox is a better tackler, but Heath gets to the ball faster. They each have positives and who starts isn't a big deal right now, but when a big play is needed on the back end, neither one makes enough consistent plays.