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Garrett: If Needed, Orton Must Step Up

On Thursday, Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett spoke to the Philadelphia media via conference call. Garrett fielded questions for just over 11 minutes, and almost every one of them concerned the health of his starting quarterback, Tony Romo, who has missed the last two days of practice with a back injury that he suffered last Sunday against Washington.

"Who is the quarterback? We've got three quarterbacks," Garrett said. "Kyle Orton has taken the reps the last couple of days. Tony Romo has not practiced, and Jon Kitna has been taking the scout team reps. We'll see what Tony's status is over the next couple of days, and we'll see what his availability is and we'll proceed accordingly."

Injuries are commonplace in the game of football, but potentially losing your star quarterback for the most important game of your season is an incredibly tough blow to be dealt. Even so, Garrett believes that the next man up, in this case Orton, has to step in and fill the void left by Romo's absence.

"You deal with injuries all the time and the next guy just has to go in there and hopefully you proceed accordingly, if it's offense, defense or the kicking game," said Garrett. "The next guy goes in and you keep running your offense or running your defense or keep doing what you do on special teams, and you move along. Certainly, the more experience that players have playing with each other or playing next to each other-that helps. The backup players have typically been around and they have an understanding of what the system is, and you try to call the game and move forward."

Orton, an eight-year pro out of Purdue, has started 69 games in his NFL career for three different teams. He's been with the Cowboys since 2012, but has never started a regular game in the star-clad helmet. If Orton does indeed get the call on Sunday night, veteran tight end Jason Witten says that the team's familiarity with Orton shouldn't lead to a tough transition to a new signal-caller.

"I think we're going to have to wait and play it out, but with Kyle I can't say enough positive things about him," Witten said during his conference call. "He's a veteran backup quarterback. He's made a lot of starts in this league and he's had success in this league. He's got great rapport with the guys. As I would say that most veteran backups do, he's constantly communicating with Tony and with some of the other guys on the offense, (talking about) the coverages and the fronts and some of the plays, even when he was a backup.

"We haven't had many reps with him, but the one good thing that we do have is that Tony was out for most of the OTAs going back to May and June. We got some work with him when Tony was out with the (back) injury this spring and summer. You've got to be able to overcome that though, and move forward and adjust. We've have two good practices so far in preparing for the Eagles."

Whether it's Romo, Orton, or Kitna at the helm on Sunday night, the Cowboys will be facing their third straight winner-take-all Week 17 matchup. In 2011, the New York Giants defeated the Cowboys 31-14 in route to their improbable Super Bowl run. The following season, Dallas fell to the Washington Redskins 28-18, and while the disappointment of those losses certainly stings, Garrett believes that there is a lot that can be taken away from those two games.

"A lot of guys on the team and a lot of guys on the coaching staff have been on these situations over the last couple of years," Garrett said. "Hopefully if you evaluate them the right way afterwards, you'll learn from them and get better. At the end of the season a couple of years ago we played the Giants at their place and last year we played at Washington, and now it's Philadelphia, so hopefully somehow, some way, we benefitted from those and we learned from those situations, and hopefully we'll have a chance to play better and win this ballgame. We know what the challenge is. The Eagles are an awfully good football team and we're just preparing to put our best foot forward."

As Eagles fans remember all too well, the Cowboys got the better of the first matchup between the two sides this season. The Cowboys came in to Lincoln Financial Field on October 20 and stymied the Eagles offense, holding the potent attack to three points and only 278 total yards. The Cowboys did a terrific job of containing the Eagles playmakers, and that will once again be the challenge this time around.

"I just think they're a really good team," Garrett explained. "There's no question about that. Offensively, they're very explosive. It starts with how well they can run the football. They're the number one rushing team in the NFL. They have a fantastic running back in LeSean McCoy. They have very athletic linemen, and they have playmakers outside. The quarterback is just doing a fantastic job of running the offense, and he continually makes big throws for them and keeps drives alive. He makes touchdown throws and makes a lot of little plays with his feet and his decision-making.

"They've played very well on offense and certainly on defense you can tell that they're getting more and more comfortable playing the scheme. They have playmaking guys all over that defense. It starts with their rushers. They're linebackers can run and make a lot of plays, and they're good in the secondary. It's an impressive team. They have good returners who can make impact plays, so they haven't won all of these games in a row by accident."

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