It appears almost certain that the Dallas Cowboys will be without the services of Rolando McClain when they visit the St. Louis Rams this week. McClain is suffering from a pulled groin, as is fellow linebacker Justin Durant. (Which raises the question of what exactly the linebackers are up to with this rash of injuries to the last place most men want to be injured? But I digress.) This leaves the Cowboys having to try their third linebacker combination in as many games.
The Dallas Cowboys continue to play linebacker roulette.
It appears that the starting trio will be Bruce Carter, Anthony Hitchens and Kyle Wilber when the wheel stops spinning this week.
McClain has emerged as the statistical leader for the Dallas defense, credited by his coaching staff with 22 tackles this season as well as the incredibly athletic interception he grabbed against the Tennessee Titans, He has been a big part of that defense making a strong case that it is a much better unit than it was in 2013. The team is stronger with him in the lineup.
However, if he is going to miss a game, then perhaps this is a good game for him to miss. I don't want to be disrespectful to the Rams, but they come into the game 1-1, with a lopsided loss to the Minnesota Vikings (admittedly when the Vikings still had Adrian Peterson available) who then went on to be crushed by the New England Patriots, and a narrow win over a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that got absolutely destroyed by the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday. They don't look like the most challenging matchup the Cowboys have.
Add in the recent history of DeMarco Murray going off against St. Louis, with the two best rushing performances of his career both coming against them (253 and 175 yards), and there might not be a better game on the schedule for McClain and Durant to both be out. The Dallas offensive line may be better at run blocking than it has ever been in Murray's brief career. Even with the missing linebackers, this seems like a great game for Dallas to recreate the formula that they used against the Titans: Run the ball extensively, dominate in time of possession, and keep the defense lounging on the sidelines as much as possible.
As long as the Cowboys can avoid taking this game for granted (because we all know that the football gods seldom fail to punish that sin), it should be a good chance to give Hitchins and Wilber some much needed experience. Lack of depth has been a plague on the Cowboys for the past few seasons, and getting the backups playing time is one way to develop depth.
This is one of those times when caution in bringing a player back is the appropriate way to go. Even if McClain were able to play in a pinch, this is not the time of the season or the game to get him back out there until he is more fully recovered. The same goes for Durant, who is easy to overlook in all the excitement about what McClain has done.
It is of course pure happenstance that McClain would have his issue this week, but sometimes you get lucky. In this case the Cowboys may have a bit of good fortune to offset the bad luck of an injury. The odds are still pretty good that Dallas will win this even while McClain and Durant are nursing their, uh, you know, for another week.