Understandably, the spotlight on the powerful Dallas Cowboys’ offense this season has been on the pups.
A pair of rookies, quarterback Dak Prescott and running Ezekiel Elliott, have been instant stars and are a big reason why Dallas is 5-1 and is atop of the NFC East. The two youngsters will be focal points of Sunday night’s crucial division matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles.
While it’s about Prescott and Elliott, there is one constant of the Dallas offense that will be a big part of the game plan against the Eagles as well – tight end Jason Witten. It’s been that way for the last 13 years.
Witten is poised to start his 204th game Sunday. It will set a franchise record for career starts, breaking his tie with former defensive lineman Ed “Too Tall” Jones. Witten has played in a team record 209 consecutive games. He has missed just one game in his career, due to a broken jaw, in 2003. The team record for total games is 224, set by special team ace Bill Bates.
Witten, 34, was drafted by Dallas in the third round of the 2003 draft. He has become one of the most successful tight ends in the NFL history and he could end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Witten is still contributing for the Cowboys. He has 28 catches and is on pace to more than 70 receptions for the 10th time in his career.
Below is the rest of the Week 8 Williamson All-22 unit. This is not an all-star team, but is a list of key players at each position this week:
Quarterback: Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions: Don’t look now, but Stafford is playing very well. He just become the quarterback with the most passing yardage in his first 100 games. Stafford gets ripped a lot, hut he’s a quality player. The Houston Texans need to be careful on Sunday.
Running back: Devontae Booker, Denver Broncos: The fourth-round pick is coming off a strong performance against Houston. The plan was to give him more carries. Now, Booker is thrust into a starting job with C.J. Anderson expected to be out several weeks with a knee injury. So, Booker has a much bigger role against San Diego than expected.
Running back: Jacquizz Rodgers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: He has a combined 255 yards rushing in the past two games. Now, Rodgers faces an Oakland defense that has been a sieve.
Wide receiver: DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans: Hopkins has to be fed up with Brock Osweiler. It’s gotten to the point where the talented Hopkins has to make his own plays. Will that happen against the Detroit Lions?
Wide receiver: Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys: Bryant has been out for a month. He is expected to play Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. Expect Prescott to try to get Bryant involved early and often.
Tight end: Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys: See above.
Left tackle: Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns: Will Sunday’s home game against the Jets be Thomas’ last game as a Brown? The team says no and Thomas says he wants to stay with the woebegone franchise he has been a star for the last 10 seasons. But if the Browns get an offer they can’t refuse by Tuesday’s trade deadline, who knows?
Left guard: Joe Thuney, New England Patriots: The rookie is playing very well. The aggressive Bills will be trying to get to Tom Brady. Thuney has to stay stout.
Center: Ryan Kelly, Indianapolis Colts: The rookie has been excellent. He is helping the entire line.
Right guard: Ali Marpet, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Quarterback Jameis Winston has been getting hit a lot. This is a winnable game against Oakland. But Winston needs protection.
Right tackle: Jeremiah Sirles, Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings’ offensive line was awful against the Eagles. The young Sirles and rest of the line, which Vikings coach Mike Zimmer called “soft” after the game, must bounce back at Chicago on Monday night.
Defensive end: Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders: Mack has been good against bad lines this season. He may have a chance to eat a lot Sunday and add to his meager sack total of three.
Defensive tackle: Chris Jones, Kansas City: He has been terrific as a rookie. The Jones-Kelly battle in Indy will be fun to watch.
Defensive tackle: Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles: Cox and Co. mauled the Vikings last week. Their task will be much tougher against the ultra-tough Dallas offensive line.
Defensive end: Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals: Jones is quietly having a nice season, his first in Arizona. He will be key in Carolina.
Outside linebacker: Vontaze Burfict, Cincinnati Bengals: Can Burfict behave himself against the Washington Redskins? It’s a legitimate question every week.
Middle linebacker: Jatavis Brown, San Diego Chargers: The fifth-round pick from Akron has been terrific as Manti Te’o’s injury replacement. Brown will try to help the Chargers upset Denver for the second time this month.
Outside linebacker: Markus Golden, Arizona Cardinals: Golden has been one of the best linebackers in football this season. The Panthers must account for him.
Cornerback: Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks: Sherman wasn’t great Sunday at Arizona. He better be in New Orleans against Drew Brees and his receiving crew. Should be a great battle to watch.
Safety: Malcom Jenkins, Philadelphia Eagles: Jenkins is also probably going to play in the slot with Ron Brooks out. It will be a key matchup against Bryant.
Safety: Corey Graham, Buffalo Bills: With fellow safety Aaron Williams dealing with an injury, Graham will be vital against the Patriots’ passing attack in the middle of the field.
Cornerback: Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville Jaguars: The No. 5-overall pick has been good and he has been feisty. He was ejected for fighting against Oakland last week. Will Tennessee try to bait him on Thursday night?