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Poll: Which player’s absence hurt the Cowboys the most in 2017?

Which player missing hurt the Dallas the most?

Detroit Lions v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys didn’t make the playoffs this season and that has put Cowboys Nation in an unsettling state of concern. Is it possible that the Prescott presence is merely fools gold and the team now has a big question mark at quarterback? Or should we come to accept that enough is never going to be done on defense to give this team a fighting chance?

The disappointing season has left some fans wanting to shake things up in Big D. Whether it’s bringing in some fresh, innovative schemes or replacing some current playmakers with some new ones - fans want change. Some are even calling for the firing of Jason Garrett despite him being the reigning Coach of the Year. These are some of the natural feelings that come over us when things don’t go down as planned, but are they really what’s best for the team? What if instead, this team didn’t need a big shake up? What if this team is closer to being a legit contender than we realize?

The loss of the big three really hurt

All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee missed six games due to a hamstring injury. All-Pro running back Ezekiel Elliott missed six games due to a suspension. All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith missed four games with a multitude of injuries. All of these injuries hurt, but which one of these hurt the most?

Here is a breakdown of the games each of these players missed, represented by blank cells (games missed also includes times where they came out early in the game with an injury):

Record with Sean Lee: 8-2

The Cowboys had two losing streaks this season (weeks 4-5, and weeks 9-11) where they lost a total of five games. Sean Lee was out for all of those games. Lee’s absence is the single-most winning-differential of the three and we’ve all seen the disparaging stats when he’s not on the field. But just in case you haven’t, here they are:

The Cowboys defense gave up twice as many points without Lee. They gave up almost 100 more yards when he wasn’t on the field. That is significant.

The problem with not having Lee is that Anthony Hitchens had to shift to weakside linebacker and Jaylon Smith had to play middle linebacker. As impressed as we were with Smith’s ability to play all 16 games this season, he was just not healthy enough to play his position at a strong enough level. Additionally, no one is as adept as Lee at recognizing offensive formations, calling out plays and moving players into position on defense.

Going forward, Dallas will likely get stronger at the position whether it come in the form of improved health from Smith, or a possible draft pick.

Record with Ezekiel Elliott: 6-4

The Cowboys had the Ezekiel Elliott suspension hanging over their heads throughout the season and halfway through the year, the hammer finally fell. The Cowboys running attack was putting up 150 yards per game which is right on target with the 2016 season. In just eight games, Elliott already had 783 yards rushing and nine total touchdowns. Since coming into the league, he’s been the most productive runner out there, despite missing six games this season.

Without Elliott, the Cowboys running game was still productive, averaging 121 yards per game, but that’s still close to 30 yards a game they were missing. The offense also missed his explosiveness, short-yardage power, and ability to help out in pass protection. All these things played a factor in slowing down the Cowboys offense. Without Zeke, opponents could change the way they defended the Cowboys offense and it put more pressure on Dak Prescott.

Going forward, Ezekiel Elliott has a clean slate. And based on the exhausting drama that accompanied him in 2017, I don’t see him slipping up anytime soon. Having Zeke for a full 16 games is a reasonable expectation.

Record with Tyron Smith: 8-4

At the time, it didn’t look like such a significant loss when Tyron Smith was unable to suit up. Yes, he’s one of the best left tackles in the game when he’s healthy, but he missed a bit of time last year and the team didn’t skip a beat. But for some reason, backup swing tackles Chaz Green and Byron Bell were a far cry from from the performance each of them displayed the last time they took the field.

The inability to protect Dak Prescott’s blindside had a trickle-down effect. Negative plays (holding penalties and sacks) put the offense in tough third down situations. Prescott played scared at times, rushing throws and firing passes into the feet of his receivers. Short-yardage situations became an issue as well as Green and Bell were being overpowered from the resulting in losses behind the line of scrimmage.

All in all, the offense struggled without Smith on the field.

There is no reason to believe Smith will be ailing next season, but the Cowboys have to be ready just in case he is. Going forward, the team is certainly going to make changes along their offensive line to be better equipped in dealing with an injury.

The Cowboys had a record of 5-1 when all three were on the field. They would play two games this season with all three out, losing both of them.

Good teams are capable of overcoming injuries and finding ways to win. The Cowboys showed that they weren’t good enough at doing that. Sure, some things they did better than others. Having a quality replacement has a lot to do with that as the team demonstrated in 2016 when Dak filled in for the injured Tony Romo. Will the team lose three All-Pros again next season? Probably not. But that won’t stop the team from trying to improve the depth so they can compete when a key player goes down.

Poll

Which players’ absence hurt the Cowboys the most?

This poll is closed

  • 44%
    Sean Lee
    (498 votes)
  • 11%
    Ezekiel Elliott
    (129 votes)
  • 43%
    Tyron Smith
    (491 votes)
1118 votes total Vote Now

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