Staying Healthy Key To Dallas Cowboys' Success In 2013

Rich Schultz

The upcoming draft is of course important for the Dallas Cowboys as they try to break out of the 8-8 doldrums in 2013. But far more crucial to making the playoffs after a long drought is keeping the players healthier than in the injury-riddled 2012 campaign.

Injuries. They are perhaps the most uncontrollable part of sports, and when they happen to key players, they can be devastating. The NFL, the most violent of professional team sports, has players going down every week, some for a game or two, and far too many for the rest of the season, sometimes ending a good career much too early.

The Dallas Cowboys saw the injury bug more than decimate them in 2012. It began before the season even started, and just continued to take a terrible toll as the season ground on.

One of the greatest concerns for fans is the Dallas offensive line, and things got off to a bad start as soon as the team tried to fix the problems there. In attempting to find a solution in free agency, the team signed a couple of free agent guards, and one of them, G Mackenzy Bernadeau, was already hurt. He had to have hip surgery before the offseason conditioning even began, and later had knee surgery. As a result, he was unable to work with the rest of his line. It is impossible to quantify how much that contributed to the ensuing disarray that plagued the offense, especially early in the season, but it had to play a major part.

Then center Phil Costa was injured, forcing the team to rely on Ryan Cook and Bernadeau to fill in for all but parts of three games. While the talent level of the line, except for LT Tyron Smith, was often blamed for the all out assault Tony Romo frequently had to endure as well as the anemic running game, the inability to achieve continuity and cohesion for much of the season arguably was the worst part of things. The fact that the line did begin to show some degree of competency late in the year tends to bear this out. Bernadeau has had another surgery in 2013, but the team is optimistic he will be back soon enough to benefit from most of the offseason program. That, and the return of Costa, could in itself be of major benefit to the team regardless of what help comes in the draft.

Bernadeau was not the only new player to suffer during the offseason. The 2012 draft class was also hard hit. At one point, only CB Morris Claiborne and TE James Hanna were available for duty, and WR Danny Coale and S Matt Johnson never made it onto the field. The team was, and is, very high on Johnson, based on his college body of work, and it is hard to say how much was lost with his injury.

The defense was particularly hard hit throughout the season, but injuries dogged all phases of the game. Rich Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News compiled league wide statistics on injured starters in the NFL in 2012, and the Cowboys were the third most injured team in his analysis, with only the Green Bay Packers and the Washington Redskins starters losing more game time. His stat line on the Cowboys:

Games Lost 16 Game Starters IR Key Injury
71 8 5 Barry Church

71 total games lost by starters. And there were plenty more lost by backups and special teams contributors like P Chris Jones. Only 8 players were able to start for the entire season. And that does not include those like DeMarcus Ware and Dez Bryant who played through injuries that affected their performance. The IR figure is only those starters who went down, and does not include other players who also were out. Barry Church was the key injury because he was the first, and set off a cascade of defensive injuries that saw the defensive back and linebacking units turned into mere shadows of what the team fielded to start the season.

This is one area where the team has good reason to feel optimistic going into 2013. If nothing else, the principle of regression to the mean should have Dallas much closer to the league average this year, which in 2012 was 48 games lost by starters. The team should have players like Costa, Coale, Johnson, Church, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, and Orlando Scandrick back to contribute (or in Coale's case compete for a spot). And it is hard to imagine that the players they do draft will be as decimated before the opening of the season as last year's snake-bitten crew. I am sure that strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik and his staff are going to work hard to try and do what they can to help cut down on this.

A significantly more healthy Cowboys roster has the potential to make some serious noise in the league this year. No team is going to be injury free, but it would be extremely unlikely for last year's experience to repeat itself in Dallas. Add in what is expected to be a very dynamic defense under Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli, and the chances of playing into January are pretty good. They just need to keep as many of the best players on the field as they can.

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