The committee has lost a key member.
Just as in the injury-related departures of Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, the Cowboys’ offensive plan has taken another hit in the loss of running back Lance Dunbar. He tore his ACL on the second-half kickoff return against the Saints, and will undergo season-ending surgery this week.
It further weakens an offense that was already struggling without its stars. And if further dilutes the “committee” of running backs that was supposed to compensate for the loss of last year’s leading rusher, DeMarco Murray.
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Dunbar was having a fantastic season reminiscent of Cowboys’ receiving running backs of old.
He already had 21 catches, had a 45-yard run against New Orleans and had five plays of 20+ yards. Without Bryant, he was the Cowboys’ most explosive weapon. But on a night when he bought 17 tickets for family – including his grandmother, who’d never seen him play in person – Dunbar’s bad choice to return a kick-off from eight yards deep in the end zone resulted in a horrible injury.
He suffered a season-ending injury to the same left knee in 2013 and who knows if he’ll ever return with the same burst and electricity.
Without him, head coach Jason Garrett will deliver his “next man up!” mantra. It sounds great in the pre-game huddle and looks good on motivational T-shirts, but, in reality, what’s it mean?
Without Dunbar who is now the Cowboys’ main receiver out of the backfield? Who returns kickoffs? Who is their third-down back?
“Lance was a weapon for us and we tried to use him as a weapon in a lot of different ways to impact our offense and impact the game,” said head coach Jason Garrett. “To say we have someone in house who is going to do those same kinds of things, I don't know that we have somebody like that. But we have guys in house who can do different things, and hopefully we'll play to those strengths.”
“Next man up!” would indicate those answers come from Darren McFadden (receiver out of backfield and third-down back) and Lucky Whitehead (kick returner). But, to say the least, a sputtering offense that can’t afford it is about to endure another downshift. The loss will likely mean more involvement for Christine Michael and perhaps even Whitehead in the backfield on third downs.
Problem is the Cowboys don’t have another Romo. Another Dez. And now I’m afraid we’re about to find out, not another Dunbar either.
A native Texan who was born in Duncanville and graduated from UT-Arlington, Richie Whitt has been a mainstay in the Metroplex media since 1986. He’s held prominent roles on all media platforms including newspaper (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Observer), radio (105.3 The Fan) and TV (co-host on TXA 21 and numerous guest appearances, including NBC 5). He lives in McKinney with his wife, Sybil, and two very spoiled dogs.