As usual, the Dallas Cowboys had high hopes heading into the 2012 NFL season. Team owner and general manager Jerry Jones had absolutely nothing off which to base those hopes, but nonetheless he was as vocal as ever with his expectations for his country club-like franchise. Now 11 games into the season, the Cowboys’ playoff hopes have become more and more of a fantasy with each injury suffered by the team.
At different times this season and even now, the following starters (both then and now) have missed time due to injury: centers Phil Costa and Ryan Cook, center/guard Kevin Kowalski, running back DeMarco Murray, receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, safety Barry Church, defensive ends Kenyon Coleman and Sean Lissemore, nose tackle Jay Ratliff and punter Chris Jones. That list doesn’t even include all the backup players: defensive end Jason Hatcher, cornerbacks Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins, safeties Danny McCray, Matt Johnson and Charlie Peprah, linebackers Orie Lemon and Caleb McSurdy, running back Felix Jones and receivers Kevin Ogletree and Danny Coale. Get the picture?
Heading into Week 13, the Cowboys have only five remaining healthy starters on defense. Five. For a team that was a title pretender to begin with, things are certainly about to go from bad to worse.
Before he was injured, Lee was the Cowboys’ best player. He led the team in tackles, was undoubtedly the leader on the field and in the locker room as well as the defensive huddle’s play-caller. When he went down with a torn toe ligament, Carter stepped into that role in every aspect. Now that Carter has joined Lee on Injured Reserve (IR), Dallas’ defense is hobbled. The Cowboys’ defense was once a top three unit this season, but is now falling fast down the ranks and these injuries should only expedite that fall.
Make no mistake about it: The Cowboys wouldn’t have contended for the Super Bowl even with these players healthy, but they might have contended for the NFC East title. This was a different team when Murray was healthy and things quickly turned south when he went down. His presence meant much more to the team than just his running ability; Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett‘s offensive play-calling wasn’t quite as moronic when he had a dynamite running back on which to lean.
Obviously Dallas’ defense isn’t nearly the unit it was with both Lee and Carter on the field. Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will now have to adjust his scheme to account for their incredible tackling abilities as well as their leadership. In short, the Cowboys are done. But the question remains: Would they still be in it had it not been for all the injuries? Probably not.