Five Healthy Starters Left On Cowboys Defense After 11 Games

Tom Pennington

The Redskins game added even more defensive players to an injury list that was already pretty long before Thanksgiving. Most concerning though is that these injuries have opened up a big hole down the middle of the Cowboys defense.

There isn't very much more to say about the injury situation on the Cowboys' defense than that it sucks. And it got worse after the game on Thursday.

- Linebacker Bruce Carter suffered a dislocated elbow that may keep him out for the rest of the season. He will undergo further tests on Monday to determine his situation.

- Defensive end Jason Hatcher left the game with concussion and his return is contingent on his passing the NFL concussion protocols.

- Slot corner Orlando Scandrick broke his hand and underwent surgery on Friday. He's likely out for the season.

After 11 games, that leaves five healthy starters on defense, as the following graphic illustrates:

Cowboys_defense_injury_status_large

"Hold it, sister!" I hear you saying, "That's 12 players on your chart". True enough. I included Orlando Scandrick here because having him on there illustrates a bigger point: The injuries the Cowboys have suffered are bunched up the middle. And if you consider the middle to be the backbone of the defense, then the Cowboys defense now has the spine of a gummi bear.

Of course we all understand that injuries are part of the game in the NFL. We also understand that every team is affected by injuries at this time of year. But ultimately we also need to recognize that there's a gaping hole in the heart of the Cowboys' defense, and unfortunately for the rest of the Cowboys season, the next players up at these positions do not stand out as great pass defenders.

The fact that he next players up will most likely not be able to adequately replace the missing starters is often taken as a sign of missing depth. But no team in the NFL is able to cover for six injured starters on defense.

Here's an overview of the walking wounded on the Cowboys' defense:

Role Player POS Status Injury
Starter Jay Ratliff NT Unclear Groin
Starter Jason Hatcher DE Unclear Concussion
Starter Bruce Carter ILB Likely season-ending Elbow
Starter Kenyon Coleman DE IR Triceps
Starter Sean Lee ILB IR Toe
Starter Barry Church S IR Achilles
Key Backup Orlando Scandrick CB Likely season-ending Hand
Backup Sean Lissemore ILB missed 6 games Ankle
Backup Orie Lemon ILB IR Hamstring
Backup Matt Johnson S IR (designated for return) Hamstring
Depth Caleb McSurdy ILB IR Achilles

There's no update on Ratliff and Hatcher available yet, and there's hope that both could potentially be ready for next week's game against the Eagles. But that won't help the Cowboys much as they try to cover the middle of the field against the pass.

Brandon Carr will likely move into the slot, as he already did for parts of the Redskins game and Mike Jenkins could man the left CB position. That would help close some holes at CB. At safety, we'll likely see Danny McCray continue to struggle against the pass, and we'll likely see the same from Connor and Sims at ILB.

It's now up to the remaining healthy players and the coaching staff to find ways of avoiding another national humiliation on Sunday Night Football against the Eagles. With up to six starters possibly missing, that's going to be quite a challenge.

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