The fact the Dallas Cowboys are in the thick of the NFC playoff race with two games left to play in 2012 is astonishing, especially considering the truckload of injuries that have plagued the team this year. The Cowboys defense isn’t the laughing stock of the NFL like it was the past two seasons and it was even a top five unit for most of the first half of the season before all the injuries hit. The success this unit has experienced in 2012 is credited completely and totally to Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
NFL defenses look to their captain and/or leader in critical situations and even the best units can fall apart with that primary player present. That important individual has been taken from the Cowboys’ defense not once, but twice in the same season along with five other starters, yet this unit has rallied to become stable again each time.
Cowboys linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter were both placed on injured reserve this season while they were the captain and signal-caller of Dallas’ defense. Safety Barry Church was also lost for the season about a month before signing a four-year contract extension. Other starters who have missed significant time this year (at least one game) include: defensive ends Kenyon Coleman and Jason Hatcher, nose tackle Jay Ratliff and cornerback Morris Claiborne. Heck, you can even throw in slot corners Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick.
Other injuries to guys like safeties Danny McCray, Matt Johnson and Charlie Peprah, linebackers Orie Lemon, Ernie Sims, Caleb McSurdy and Dan Connor definitely haven’t made things any easier for a team that has struggled with depth for years. It’s one thing to lose studs like Lee and Carter, but it’s another to have their backups sidelined as well. For these reserve players to come together and play as well as they have in 2012 means Dallas undoubtedly made the right decision to bring in Ryan as its defensive coordinator before the 2011 season.
Sure, his first season didn’t go as planned in Dallas, but Ryan didn’t have current (including injured) starters Brandon Carr and Claiborne in the lineup, which really hurt the Cowboys’ defense. Now Ryan is working a makeshift unit that includes players like cornerback Michael Coe, who was so bad he was cut from the New York Giants‘ 28th-ranked pass defense. However, Ryan is making it work, even against other teams fighting their playoff lives as the Cowboys knocked off two AFC North contenders–the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers–in consecutive weeks.
Believe it or not, the Cowboys are currently riding a three-game winning streak in December, which is something that hasn’t happened since 1993, the year Dallas won its fourth Super Bowl. Now that’s not to suggest the Cowboys have any hopes of winning the title this year, but it’s certainly an attribute to Ryan’s success with this team’s defense which has overcome more than its share of injuries in a wild season. While all the prop-giving is going on in Dallas, make sure Ryan gets a bunch of it.