Up and down the roster, Cowboys can count game-changers

Posted Thursday, Sep. 05, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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It starts with Dez Bryant.

It goes to DeMarcus Ware and Jason Witten, then to Sean Lee.

It includes Tony Romo and Brandon Carr. Potentially, Terrance Williams.

The list of game-changing players on both sides of the ball for the Cowboys is long. Is it the longest it has been since the end of the Super Bowl years, when Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Deion Sanders, Darren Woodson and Charles Haley roamed?

Hardly anyone even has to think more than a half-second.

“If you really look at it, oh, my Lord, yeah,” Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach said.

“The answer is yes,” owner Jerry Jones said.

“I think you can say that,” longtime play-by-play announcer Brad Sham said.

“I would agree,” former scouting director Larry Lacewell said.

None of today’s game-changers has done what the game-changers of the 1990s did. But then, it’s been two decades since the franchise has assembled as many explosive players — players who can turn a game with a single throw or a dazzling catch, one big breakaway run, a quick pick-six, a crunching strip sack, a flip-the-field punt return — under one roof at one time.

“I would look at the skill positions on the offense and say since those ’90s, our great success in the ’90s, on paper, this is the best,” Jones said. “It’s the most numbers. We have more options. We have more numbers to work with.”

Staubach agreed. He said the Cowboys have been drafting better recently, and it is starting to show in the playmakers they are collecting.

“If [rookie draft pick Gavin] Escobar comes through, you’d have two tight ends,” he said. “You have Miles Austin. And they really like Williams. Dwayne Harris had a good year last year.”

It is one thing to count game-changers on a roster. It is another thing for the game-changers to change games.

“Time will tell,” Witten said. “But I do think there are a lot of explosive guys at different positions. I think Tony is kind of a key to it all and making all that fit. We’ve just got to go out and execute. We’ve had explosive teams before and not done as good a job as we could.”

Witten could be thinking about 2007.

He was the leading receiver that year on a team that also had Terrell Owens, plus Greg Ellis and Ware on defense. Owens has been gone four years, but he is still the leading career touchdown target of Romo. And that season, Ellis and Ware combined for 26.5 sacks. Romo had a 97.6 quarterback rating for the season.

But that team lost its playoff opener.

The 2009 team had explosive rookie Felix Jones and Marion Barber at running back and the emerging Austin at receiver, Ware with 11 sacks and cornerback Mike Jenkins in a Pro Bowl season.

But it couldn’t get past the second round of the playoffs.

“We need to focus on executing and not worry about how high somebody can jump or how fast they are,” Witten said. “I think we’ve got all the keys to it that we need — good players — but other teams are going to have good players, too.”

And other teams have been healthier than the Cowboys. The Cowboys might have game-changers. But they have not all stayed on the field.

“Michael Irvin. Deion Sanders. Troy Aikman. Emmitt Smith. Darren Woodson. Ken Norton. They stayed healthy,” former Cowboys guard Nate Newton said. “They played. And I’m not saying these guys today ain’t game-changers when they’re in there.

“But in order to be successful, your last four games are so critical. The last four of the season is when you’re pushing to make the playoffs, pushing for a position in the playoffs or pushing for home-field advantage in the playoffs. That’s when you really see your playmakers coming to life.”

If the Cowboys are healthy, they will have as many game-changers as any team in the league. If quantity makes a difference, the Cowboys could come out ahead.

“You’ve got to be realistic,” Lacewell said. “The offensive line has got to give them a chance to change a game. And I think the NFL is all about that. I’ve often said, if you can run out three or four guys that make a difference in the game, then that’s the NFL. Don’t tell me that the guy up in New England doesn’t make a difference. Certain guys make a difference.”

Certainly, the Cowboys appear to have their share.

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @calexmendez

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