Tragedy has once again been spotlighted on an NFL Saturday. The life of Dallas Cowboys practice squad hopeful, Jerry Brown, has been claimed after a one-car accident early Saturday morning. Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent was arrested on charges of intoxication manslaughter.
Our thoughts and prayers are of course with the family and friends of Brown. We can only hope that the silver lining in this unfortunate circumstance is awareness for athletes and fans alike. Alcohol-related crashes are the leading cause of death for young Americans. What makes this kind of tragedy so infuriating is how easily it can be avoided. It’s as simple as surrendering your keys after consumption.
And it starts with head coach Jason Garrett. It is up to him to find that delicate balance of empathy and preparation to get his team focused on the task at hand. Garrett isn’t someone that I would necessary view as a motivational speaker, however. Not to make light of the situation, but the Cowboys could use a speech from Eric Taylor now more than ever. This could be a career-defining moment for their young head coach. If they are to somehow put together an inspiring road win, which would keep their playoff hopes alive for one more week, Garrett might extinguish some of that hot seat talk.
But even if he delivers a speech of the ages and instills the unrelenting motivation required to win football games, it will ultimately be up to the players to deliver and lead the charge. One player in particular will have his leadership skills put to the biggest test of his six-year career.
That player is Tony Romo. Even in the presence of defensive warriors like DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff, it will be Romo who is faced with the tough task of pulling the locker room together. Romo knows more than anyone that the offense will have to carry a banged-up defense, one that will be playing with heavy hearts and is unfortunately light on talent.
That’s a tall order against a Bengals defense that has allowed only one passing touchdown in their four-game winning streak. What makes this situation even worse is the Cowboys’ paper-thin offensive line. Thankfully, left guard Nate Livings returned to practice Friday. It will be up to him to stop Geno Atkins, whose 11 sacks and 37 quarterback hurries have him ranked by Pro Football Focus as the best defensive tackle in the league.
But there is hope. If the Cowboys offensive line can somehow manage to give Romo a steady pocket, Dez Bryant and Miles Austin should have no trouble exploiting the Bengals’ undersized secondary.
We all remember Terence Newman, right? The guy that was a quarterback favorite and couldn’t cover an ant with a blanket last year? Now it’s the Cowboys' turn. Bryant and Austin need to be physical against these cornerbacks, especially Newman, and find the soft spot in the coverage.
With a defense that’s likely to surrender a lot of points, the offense will be required to make up the deficit. Romo can absolutely not afford to turn the ball over. And he has to find his receivers even as the pocket collapses.
His leadership, along with team unity and efficient execution, are the keys to carving out an emotional road win. It is in the face of adversity that champions are born. A win against a good team could very well spark the playoff run that this team so desperately needs.