With six games to go in the 2013 NFL regular season, Dallas Cowboys middle linebacker Sean Lee was already approaching his career highs in total tackles and interceptions this year. Many called Lee the best linebacker in football and a sure-thing for the Pro Bowl. But a hamstring injury in Week Ten against the New Orleans Saints has sidelined the fourth-year veteran for the last two games.
The Cowboys find themselves in a neck-and-neck race for first place in the NFC East with the Philadelphia Eagles, so the outcome of every game is critical in determining whether they will finally get back into the post-season. And with a player like Lee out, those chances get a lot more slimmer.
Fortunately, Dallas was able to pull out victories in Week 11 over the New York Giants and Week 12 over the Oakland Raiders without their defensive leader. Both wins were close as the defense featured a more “bend” but don’t “break” defensive style. Against New York, the defense gave up 202 rushing yards, but held Giant’s quarterback Eli Manning to just 174 passing yards. In their previous meeting, Manning threw for an astounding 450 yards.
And against the Raiders, the Dallas “D” allowed just 50 total yards on the ground. But they also allowed Oakland’s undrafted rookie free agent quarterback Matt McGloin to throw for 255 passing yards resulting in a 14-point Raider lead just before half-time. A key fourth quarter interception by Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr in the endzone made the difference in the game.
In Lee’s absence, players like linebackers Bruce Carter and Ernie Sims stepped up their games. Carter recorded 13 total tackles in the past two games while also replacing Lee as the defense’s playcaller. Sims chipped in 13 total tackles of his own, including 10 against the Giants in New York.
Lee called himself a game-time decision before last week’s matchup against the Raiders. With ten more days before their Monday Night game against the Chicago Bears in Soldier Field, expect Lee to be ready to go and the Cowboys defense to be on top of their game next week.