Dallas Cowboys: How Jason Witten's Injury Could Devastate the Boys' Offense

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Dallas Cowboys: How Jason Witten's Injury Could Devastate the Boys' Offense
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, All-Pro tight end Jason Witten suffered a spleen injury in the Cowboys' exhibition opener against the Oakland Raiders, an injury that will reportedly cause the star to miss—at the very least—the rest of the preseason.

Florio stated that a source with knowledge of the situation reported that the blow to the spleen—which occurred on a leveling hit from Raiders' LB Rolando McClain—has caused internal bleeding but is not currently believed to have caused a rupture. 

ESPN's Ed Werder tweeted the projected prognosis. 

 

 

At this time, surgery isn't expected to be necessary, but it hasn't been ruled out, either. 

So, how does the injury potentially affect the offense if Witten isn't ready to suit up Week 1 against the rival New York Giants?

Well, the five-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowl selection has suited up for every regular-season game the Cowboys have played since becoming their No. 1 TE in 2004. That's 132 consecutive contests, to be exact. 

So, the answer, for now, is that we don't exactly know—an absolutely terrifying thought for QB Tony Romo and Cowboys fans around the world. But if surgery ends up being a requirement, or the amount of time expected for a full recovery is extended in any way, the effect could be devastating to this year's playoff hopes. 

Tom Pennington/Getty Images
The Cowboys need their star TE back in action by Week 1.

The Cowboys' front office spent a great deal of time and money bolstering a much-improved defensive unit this spring. But without Witten's presence on the offensive side of the ball, Dallas loses the most consistent and reliable pass-catcher it has.

Considering the loss of WR Laurent Robinson (11 touchdowns in 2011) to free agency, Dez Bryant's off-the-field troubles and Miles Austin's own lingering injury issues, the tight-end position is the last spot for which Jason Garrett wants to start searching for replacements in the passing game.

Since he became the starter in 2006, Romo hasn't been forced to play a single game without Witten as his No. 1 TE. The incredibly efficient pass-catcher has hauled in 696 passes throughout his nine-year career, sitting behind only Sterling Sharpe and Tony Gonzalez on the all-time list of career receptions from the position.

The fact is, nobody on the Cowboys' roster can immediately jump in and replace Jason Witten. When it comes to understanding and executing the responsibilities of the tight-end position, there is no doubt Witten consistently performs at a Hall of Fame level.

It is completely illogical to ask anyone to step in and perform at that level. Nine years of NFL experience have helped round Witten into an amazingly effective blocker, and he can exploit holes in coverage with the best of them. 

At age 30, he should have plenty of gas left in the tank. Gonzalez caught 80 passes last year at age 35, so by that logic alone, it's clear that a healthy Jason Witten is not one that needs replacing anytime soon.

Can the Cowboys' offense succeed without Witten playing?

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Witten may not always be Romo's favorite end-zone option, but he's usually the one putting them in the position to put six points on the board.

Former backup Martellus Bennett is now with the Giants, leaving third-year pro John Phillips as the current No. 2 on the depth chart—mainly by default. 

Behind Phillips, it's Round 6 draft pick James Hanna, undrafted rookie Andrew Szczerba and John Nalbone, who was picked up off waivers from Seattle

Not good. 

The fact that Witten will sit out the rest of the preseason isn't much of a concern, but if he misses any meaningful game action, the result could be devastating. 

Phillips has recorded just 22 receptions in his two NFL seasons thus far, and obviously the three rookies behind him come without any big league experience. 

As much as it pains me to say, Tony Romo is a legitimate NFL QB who can take this franchise where it intends to go.

But if this injury becomes an issue that lingers into the regular season, the Cowboys could soon become exposed to the harsh reality that its offense, without Jason Witten—or any TE capable of coming close to replicating Witten’s production—suddenly becomes a much less effective overall unit.

Because if you remove Witten from this offense, you’re not just forced to replace your starting tight end. You’re forced to replace the most consistent and reliable pass-catcher Tony Romo has had throughout his entire NFL career. 

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Can John Phillips step up if Witten misses a considerable amount of time?

It's hard to blame the front office for not seeking out more capable depth behind their superstar tight end. To this point, injuries have rarely been a concern, and the Cowboys have had far more glaring holes to tend to this offseason.

But if Dallas kicks off the 2012 NFL regular season Wednesday, Sep. 5 in New York and Witten doesn't have his helmet strapped up, Romo and the Cowboys are going to staring at one heck of a potential issue. 

For now, we can hope that the prognosis remains the same—or even improves—and surgery isn't required.

But the longer Witten remains on the mend, the quicker the Boys' hopes of returning to the postseason begin to dwindle. 

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