The Dallas Cowboys haven't been very lucky when it comes to injuries the past few weeks. The Cowboys have lost their starting safety, starting running back and now their starting middle linebacker. To make matters worse, the safety and linebacker were basically the quarterbacks of the defense.
The Cowboys must overcome three injuries that will bring a serious change to the offense and defense. Injuries are just part of the game, unfortunately; they make it very difficult to get through the season and make some noise in the playoffs when you are without your best players.
Let's take a closer look at three injuries that the Cowboys are attempting to overcome in their meeting against their division rival New York Giants.
Depth At Running Back
DeMarco Murray suffered a foot sprain during the middle of the Baltimore game and he has been out since. Murray is an amazing talent who can control the game when his offensive line blocks for him. Without Murray in the lineup, the Cowboys have leaned more on Felix Jones and Phillip Tanner. While Jones and Tanner may not be the type of talent Murray is, they are reliable options that can come in and run the football.
The Cowboys actually have some of their best depth in years at the running back. Felix Jones still appears to be the brittle running back we all love, but he looks like he has regained the burst and quickness that he appeared to lose during the summer and first few weeks of the regular season.
I know that some of us are intrigued by the younger running backs on the team. Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar are talented running backs who have the athletic ability to make plays in the NFL. Tanner is more of your typical "power back", but he does have some quickness to his game. He is also versatile enough to make an impact in the passing game, which is something I still believe we need to see implemented more into the offense.
Murray has already been ruled out for this Sunday's huge divisional game against the New York Giants. Jones is questionable with a bruised knee, but Felix will play in this game. The real question is how many snaps and how much will he be able to give the Cowboys in terms of production in this game? Don't be surprised if Tanner finds himself as the lead running back against the Giants.
Life Without Lee
Sean Lee is the heart and soul of the Dallas defense. Lee is nearly irreplaceable, but defensive coordinator Rob Ryan must do his best to replace Lee in the lineup. There were rumors that Ryan was actually crying over the loss of Lee, but Rob insists that he didn't cry.
"I probably should have cried," Ryan said. "But we’re doing a good job. Sean’s always around. As classy as a person he is, he’s out here every day helping. The guy’s phenomenal. The thing that kills you in this business is you see a guy work that hard, makes himself great, makes everybody else around him great, it is devastating when you see somebody like that leave and get injured."
Once again Lee is the Cowboys leading tackler this season, and it's not even close. Bruce Carter is second on the Cowboys with 32 tackles. Lee's instincts allow him to be in the right place at the right time. When you watch the Cowboys on defense, on almost every tackle you see #50 flying in to make the play.
I won't sugarcoat the Lee injury as a "test that will make or break" the Dallas Cowboys. Unlike the situation at running back, the Cowboys really don't have a lot of depth at inside linebacker. Dan Connor is a heck of a backup player to have on your roster, but the NFL consistently keeps morphing into a passing league. Connor is a "down hill" and physical linebacker who opposing teams will target in the passing game.
One of the reasons that I like Lee so much is that he has heart. If I could have 52 other Sean Lee's on my football team, then I would have a team that would destroy the competition every single week on their way to championship. When Lee tore his ACL at Penn State, he didn't distance himself from the Penn State team. Instead he became an extra defensive coach on the sideline. I believe that you will see Lee take on the same role with the Cowboys the rest of the season because he talked about staying connected with the team.
"If I disconnect, I’m not part of the team at all," Lee said. "If I can help in a small way, it’ll still help. I think this defense will continue to get better with or without me. I want to be a part of it. I’m so excited to see Bruce Carter, Dan Connor play. Those are guys who have gotten better and better and are ready to step up. I think this defense is going to continue to get better."
Until the day comes where we can start cloning players, the Cowboys must find a way to counteract the departure of Lee.That is either going to come in the form of Dan Connor, Ernie Sims or from one of our safeties. I don't know if it will work out, but I know it's going to be interesting watching all of the new guys attempt to fill in for Lee.
Was The Barry Church Extension The Right Decision?
The Cowboys have been without Church for three games now and have gone 1-2 in those three games. Church was a huge loss to our secondary because he was really starting to get comfortable in this defense. He may have lacked tremendous athletic ability, but he had improved his speed and coverage skills during the offseason.
Rob Ryan believes that Church is going to be a superstar in the NFL. Now I may not agree with the "superstar" label, but I do agree with Ryan that Church is going to be a very good starting safety in the NFL.
"This guy -- and all you guys saw it -- he's going to be a superstar in this league," Ryan gushed Friday. "You get a guy early, and he comes out of that injury healthy, and this guy is going to be a fantastic safety. So it's real unfortunate, I think I shed a few tears on that one when we lost him for the year. I think it's one of those things you do have to get over, but it's fantastic for the Cowboys' organization, and hopefully I can be a part of his career for a long time."
The Cowboys locked Church up with a four-year extension earlier this week. Church will receive a $2.5 million signing bonus and $3.8 million guaranteed. Signing Church for around $9 million is a great bargain for the Cowboys, but how do they know he will recover from his Achilles injury? That's a risk they are willing to play, but you have to wonder if the Cowboys jumped the gun on this signing.
With Church out for the year, the Cowboys have been relying on Danny McCray at safety next to Gerald Sensabaugh. I have been waiting for a team to dial it up and attack our safeties deep, but that just hasn't happen yet. If any team is willing to do that, then it may be Eli Manning and the New York Giants. The Giants weren't afraid to test our safeties deep last year. This will be the first game against the Giants without Church in the secondary. Let's see if our safeties are up to the challenge for the second time around.
It will be interesting to see how new addition Charlie Peprah is implemented into the defense. Will Rob Ryan bring him along slowly? Or will Ryan feed him to the wolves and put him out there this weekend against Manning and company?
The Cowboys need to overcome these injuries if they want to win this game. If someone goes down, then it's the next guy in line to take his place and produce. That may be cold, but right now that is the truth of the matter. Hopefully the Cowboys can get production and overcome their losses on their way to a win on Sunday.