By Shawn S. Lealos
The Dallas Cowboys have their toughest task of the season as they face the undefeated New England Patriots without their two top offensive stars, Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. However, if they have a chance to win it will be because of their defense, which is almost back to full strength. Both Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain make their return from the suspended list and the Cowboys only have one other starter on defense who will miss this game. If the Cowboys can play up to their strengths, the defense could keep it close enough to win. Here is a look at the Dallas Cowboys injury report.
The biggest injuries this season are to the top two Cowboys offensive stars. Tony Romo will likely be out until either Thanksgiving Day against the Carolina Panthers, although he could legitimately return in the Miami Dolphins game the weekend before Thanksgiving. This week, Brandon Weeden will remain the starter for Dallas and he has played well in his two starts, despite the Cowboys losing both games. If Dallas really wants to make a change, Matt Cassel is active for the first time since coming to the Cowboys in a trade with the Buffalo Bills.
Dez Bryant will also miss another game, and the Cowboys wide receivers took another hit last weekend when Brice Butler injured his hamstring. That left Dallas with Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley and Devin Street as their only wideouts. Luckily, they have Lucky Whitehead ready to step up to help this week, as well as the two tight end sets of Jason Witten and Gavin Escobar. Witten is not on this week’s injury report despite his ankle and knee problems the past two weeks. However, James Hanna is listed as questionable this week with an ankle injury, limiting the tight end depth.
Dez Bryant is possible to return after their bye. It should also be noted that running back Lance Dunbar will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL, placed on the season ending Injured Reserve list. This will open the door for Darren McFadden to get some more touches, as one of the best receivers out of the backfield. Christine Michael will also get more looks now that the running back depth is depleted even more than before.
On defense, Greg Hardy will move back into the starting lineup at defensive end, which will help as Randy Gregory is still out with an ankle injury. Jeremy Mincey is no longer listed on the injury report either. Sean Lee passed his concussion tests after leaving last weeks game hurt, and with Rolando McClain back, the linebackers are healthy and complete for the first time this season. If the Cowboys have any hope of beating Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, they need their defense to step up. Hardy will have to rush the quarterback and both Lee and McClain will have to be prepared to stop Rob Gronkowski down the middle, as well as limit the run.
Sean Lee, OLB (concussion)
Andrew Gachkar, LB (foot)
Ryan Russell, DE (groin)
James Hanna, TE (ankle)
Dez Bryant, WR (foot)
Randy Gregory, DE (ankle)
Brice Butler, WR (hamstring)
Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos. Examiner.com.