Help is on the way for the Dallas Cowboys, and his name is Antwaun Woods. The starting nose tackle was absent the past three contests with a knee injury from the Week 2, and Woods being sidelined created a noticeable hole in the defensive front.
The Cowboys tried to fill the void with a rotation of second-round pick Trysten Hill and free agent additionChristian Covington, and while both played well against the Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints, the wheels fell off against the Green Bay Packers in Week 5. Woods now has participated in two full practices and will be on the field Sunday when they visit the New York Jets.
That's big news for a Cowboys run defense that allowed Aaron Jones to gash them for a career day that included 107 yards and four touchdowns. Woods' return could also indirectly aid struggling linebacker play -- by allowing Jaylon Smith to focus more on actually being the MIKE (middle linebacker) as opposed to another body consistently sent to rush the passer in a 3-3-5 front (three down linemen, three linebackers, five defensive backs) that was utilized more frequently with Woods sidelined.
Speaking of linebackers, more good news arrived for the Cowboys late this week by way of Leighton Vander Esch, who missed two practices this week with an illness. Vander Esch reported to practice on Friday and was a full participant and will also take the field at MetLife Stadium after initial concerns he may not.
Although both Smith and Vander Esch struggled against the Packers, they're more often one of the more dangerous linebacker tandems in the NFL, and the Cowboys need both available to increase their odds of avoiding an upset and a three-game slide.
They'd like to also have both of their starting offensive tackles for those same reasons, but both Tyron Smith and La'El Collins remain game-time decisions -- as does wide receiver Randall Cobb. Of the three, the least likely to take the field would be Collins, with the right tackle having not practiced or done much of anything at all Wednesday through Friday. Smith fared a bit better, as he is out of the walking boot he initially wore to protect him after suffering a high ankle sprain and is moving well. The All-Pro left tackle didn't formally participate in practice, but he did a good bit of individual work on the side.
Owner Jerry Jones is confident the Cowboys will have either Smith or Collins against the Jets -- if not both -- but the team will make the decision closer to game time. It's expected Smith gets the green light, but time will tell.
As for Cobb, who sat out the last two practices of the week with back tightness? Team exec Stephen Jones believes the veteran will play against New York, but wants to see how Cobb feels before the game on Sunday.
None of them have been ruled out as of yet, but Woods and Vander Esch have been ruled in, and those two things matter greatly.