In 2010, Tony Romo broke his collarbone and missed 10 games. The Cowboys turned the team over to Jon Kitna and the final game to Stephen McGee. During that stretch, after being blown out the first two games, they were 5-3 and had a chance to win each of the final eight without their most important player.
If they can approach .500 football during this 2015 stretch without Romo, they will be right in the playoff race and probably still near the top of the NFC East when Thanksgiving arrives. But that will start with a key two-week stretch against the NFC South, at home against Atlanta on Sunday and in New Orleans next Sunday night. After that, the additions of Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain should strengthen the defense.
The Falcons, 2-0 against the NFC East, feature some elite young talent on both sides of the ball who will play a major role in this important conference matchup.
Any debate about the best wide receiver in the NFL must include Julio Jones. In many ways, when it comes to the measurables, he is a slightly more-gifted version of Dez Bryant. Both could stake claims as the best in the business entering 2015 (Calvin Johnson and Antonio Brown would also like mentions), and now both are linked with similar foot injuries. Bryant is going through what Jones did in 2011 and 2013. As a talent, Jones appears to be worth the five draft picks the Falcons gave Cleveland (the Browns have no players left to show for the trade) as he is a production machine who dominates games. He is just as likely to beat you deep as he is to punish with quick WR screens. His combination of strength and speed as well as his ability to win battles for the ball easily make him the focal point of the Cowboys' defensive game plan.
The sixth pick in the 2014 draft from Texas A&M, the next pro from the famous Matthews family, Jake was immediately inserted at left tackle and struggled mightily. Pass protection was a learning process throughout his rookie year, and he played through a high ankle sprain when he might have been better off sitting. The Falcons offensive line remains a work in progress, but Matthews appears much better equipped to live up to his reputation out of college. Besides quarterback, there may not be a more difficult position to figure out as a young prospect than left tackle in the NFL. There is every reason to believe he will be in that spot for years to come. His strength, footwork, and technique all seem to be developing as he matures.
Beasley was the eighth pick in this past draft out of Clemson. One of the most impressive pass rushers to come out of college in years, Beasely dominated opponents with quickness and relentless effort that will test the Cowboys' tackles today. He reminds observers of Von Miller with his blinding speed off the snap and flexibility to turn the corner on almost anyone. His work last week against the Giants' rookie left tackle, Ereck Flowers, was very impressive. Beating Tyron Smith like that will be a far more difficult challenge, but Beasley seldom runs into someone who can slow him down.