Dallas Cowboys middle linebacker Sean Lee has started out this season as strong as any linebacker has in the National Football League. He has had four interceptions with one touchdown with 64 tackles as he was on pace to shatter his 2011 stats when he played 15 games. Lee was drafted by the Cowboys in 2010 NFL Draft with the 55th overall pick. He was expected to fill the role of middle linebacker immediately but nagging injuries in training camp kept him from see a bunch of playing time.
Lee’s rookie season saw him make some strides to showing his potential as he finished that season with 32 total tackles including 27 solo and 5 assisted with 2 interceptions. His first interception came by compliments of Peyton Manning as the Cowboys played the Colts. Lee ran that in for a “pick 6”-a touchdown from an interception. His second interception came later in the game as he got the best of Manning with this one setting up the game-winning field goal for kicker David Buehler to win it for the Cowboys, 38-35.
Lee started out the 2011 season given the starting job of inside linebacker in Rob Ryan’s scheme and he became an immediate impact player. Lee had 4 interceptions that year amassing 87 yards from those INT’s. He had 71 total tackles, assisted with 34 and ended up having a breakout season. In the middle of that season, he had one injury that saw him miss some time off of the field. In the eighth game of the season, he sustained a wrist injury.
In 2012, he was on-point to having a bigger season than his 2nd as he was already at 36 solo tackles with 22 assisted and 1 interception through the first six games. A big toe injury against the Carolina Panthers ended his season and up-ended the team as they lost their defensive leader. Not only did the Cowboys lose Lee but a few weeks later, his backup Bruce Carter was lost due to a dislocated elbow. With the Cowboys decimation of injuries they finished the season at 8-8 and missed the playoffs once again.
The 2013 season has started typically for the Cowboys as they are at 5-5 and leading the NFC East. Lee is having his best season yet with 93 tackles, 4 interceptions with 1 recovered for a touchdown and another returned for 74 yards against the Detroit Lions. In October, he was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Month. Lee was having a decent game against the New Orleans Saints, starting out with 3 tackles but a hamstring injury has him out for the next 2-3 games.
Lee has yet to complete a full 16-game season. He missed 2 games his rookie year, 1 in his 2nd year, 10 in his 3rd year, and now is expected to miss a minimum of 2 games this year. And I say minimum because it is not known exactly how many he will miss.
DeMarco Murray was drafted a year after Lee and he hasn’t been able to finish a complete 16-game season and will not do so this year due to injuries. Murray missed 3 his rookie season, 6 the following year, and has missed 2 so far this year.
The two players have two things in common when they are injured the Cowboys feel the effects of their absence. When Murray went down for his sprained foot, the running game went downhill from there. The Cowboys pretty much abandoned the rushing game and almost went to an exclusively pass-rich offense.
The same thing occurred when Lee injured his big toe. The defense suffered until Bruce Carter was comfortable filling the role of starter. Of course, the moments we were breathing easier with Carter, he suffers a season ending injury taking the Cowboys back to square one.
Dallas has suffered through injuries before and in the case of Lee getting hurt in 2012, they had a decent backup solution. When Murray went down this season, they put in rookie running back Joseph Randle plus ran Lance Dunbar quite often. The stats were down during his injury time but they were not totally lost as the season before.
The Cowboys are going into the bye week at a much needed time. Not only is Sean Lee banged up but were without Jason Hatcher, Morris Claiborne, J.J. Wilcox, and Justin Durant (who replaced Lee during the Saints game with a similar hamstring injury). The ‘boys are still without Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware just came back from an injury. Unfortunately, that is just on the defensive side of the ball. Miles Austin has been out for several weeks and it is a good guess that the offensive line is banged up a bit. Taking wear and tear throughout the season isn’t an easy one at any level. They may not have injuries that are news-worthy but from my experience as an athletic trainer, they are hurting and need the break.
The Cowboys also get some time to find their offense so hopefully they will spend that time doing so instead of taking some unnecessary trips. If they don’t spend that time working on things and getting that offense to click, then they will have plenty of time for a trip after the season is over with because at the rate this season is going, they are looking at another 8-8 record with another possibility of not making the playoffs. The only consolation is that the rest of the NFC East isn’t as competitive at this point in the year. Dallas will pick up their quest to make the playoffs in two weeks as they play against the New York Giants at 3:25 PM CST.