Cowboys Will Need to Overcome Significant Obstacles in Opener Against Giants

Aaron Nagler@Aaron_NaglerNFL National Lead WriterAugust 27, 2012

Romo will have to overcome a great deal
Romo will have to overcome a great dealRonald Martinez/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys will need to have a serious "Next man up" mentality when they take on the New York Giants in the NFL's season opener next week. 

First and probably most importantly, the Cowboys could be without tight end Jason Witten, who suffered a lacerated spleen after taking a wicked hit against the Raiders last week. Witten's importance to the offense is no secret, as quarterback Tony Romo looks to him often (some would say too much) when things break down. Witten is also a valuable blocker in-line that is the rare tight end who can take on defensive ends and not be completely over-matched in the running game.  

Witten's replacement, a 2009 sixth round draft choice for the Cowboys named John Phillips, had a decent game this past weekend, albeit against a pretty pedestrian looking St. Louis Rams defense.

That said, Philips showed good awareness on a few plays where he has to find a soft spot in a zone, as he did on the play below:

Philips also made an excellent catch verses man coverage that looked positively Witten-esque:

If the Cowboys can get that kind of play out of Philips consistently, the offense may be able to function at or near the level it would be with Witten on the field, though the Giants will no doubt present a much tougher test for the fourth year pro.

Witten is not the only receiving option who is hurting. The Cowboys are also dealing with injuries to their starting receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, though they have much better chances of playing in the opener despite fighting through hamstring and knee injuries, respectively.  

Giving the Cowboys some hope is the play of second-year wide receiver Dwayne Harris and undrafted free agent Cole Beasley. Beasley has looked particularly good out of the slot and Harris has shown some ability downfield. 

Of course, whichever mix of receivers is on the field won't matter much if the Cowboys are unable to keep Romo upright against the Giants' formidable defensive front—a task which is difficult for teams when they are at full strength, much less when their offensive line is a patched together unit with some pieces that are still learning how to play their positions. 

Center Phil Costa has a stiff back. Guard Nate Livings is just back from a hamstring injury. Oh, and tackles Doug Free and Tyron Smith are still the techniques involved with playing their positions. 

Needless to say, a lot has to come together rather quickly for the Cowboys up front.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Cowboys are dealing with the dreaded high ankle sprain to nose tackle Jay Ratliff, suffered in Saturday night's game against the Rams. This, after Ratliff missed the first two preseason games with plantar fasciitis.

Ratliff will be hard pressed to play against the Giants.

Whereas Ratlff makes his living off his quickness and being a one-gap penetrator, his likely replacement, third-year pro Josh Brent, is a bit bigger, nowhere near as quick, but more of a classic nose tackle. The Cowboys would certainly miss Ratliff's active style of play and his ability to disrupt passing plays with his quick penetration. 

Of course, even if the Cowboys were to enter the game at full strength personnel-wise, which seems a dubious proposition at best, they will be attempting to buck history by trying to become the first road team to win the season opener since the NFL began featuring the defending Super Bowl champions in prime-time during the week leading up to kickoff weekend. 

There's a lot stacked against the Cowboys heading into Week 1. The crazy thing is, I think they have the type of talent that could possibly overcome these obstacles and win the game. From Romo and his ability to make things happen when his protection breaks down, to DeMarcus Ware. Sean Lee, Brandon Carr and rookie Morris Claiborne on the defensive side, the talent is on hand to overcome a great deal. 

Is it enough to beat the champs at close to full strength in the their house on opening night? That's why they play the games.