The Dallas Cowboys will be without their All-Pro middle linebacker Sean Lee for their Sunday night matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles. Enter Justin Durant, the former Dallas starter.
It’s no secret the Dallas Cowboys defense looks like a completely different unit without weakside linebacker Sean Lee. When Lee aggravated his hamstring against the Falcons last week, the Cowboys were no match for Atlanta’s high flying offense.
FOX announcer and Cowboys legend Troy Aikman pointed out the staunch contrast in Dallas’ defensive unit without their leader on the field.
"“It’s pretty remarkable when you look at the numbers when Sean Lee is playing and when he’s not playing,” Aikman said Thursday on KTCK-AM 1310 The Ticket. “It’s hard to imagine one guy having that significant of an impact but yet the numbers back it up.”"
The Cowboys will activate linebacker Justin Durant for their Sunday night tilt, and he will likely get the start at middle linebacker with Anthony Hitchens shifting over to Lee’s normal weakside spot.
Durant also didn’t downplay Lee’s injury, whose impact goes beyond the football field for the Dallas defense.
However, he echoed head coach Jason Garrett‘s mantra of “next man up,” and refused to use Lee’s injury as a crutch.
"“We know what Sean means to our defense, of course – let’s not take that away from him. He’s an All-Pro,” Durant said to the Dallas Morning News. “It’s going to be tough when an All-Pro player of his caliber is out, but you can’t use that as an excuse. You have to go play the game.”"
Durant played well for the Cowboys as an on and off starter during his first stop with the Cowboys back in the 2013-14 seasons. He was also re-signed last year following his release from Atlanta for depth purposes, and amassed 37 tackles total tackles over the course of 13 games.
Durant doesn’t haven’t to be outstanding this week against the Eagles on Sunday, but he certainly needs to step up. The Cowboys rush defense, particularly, suffers when Lee isn’t on the field. Running backs average a whopping 5.3 yards per carry without Lee compared to a meager 3.5 yards per carry when Lee is on the field.
If Durant can play consistent, hard nose football for the Cowboys on first and second down, they stand a chance against these Philadelphia Eagles. With Jaylon Smith‘s play inconsistent against both the run and pass, Durant can help at least with the former.
Again, there’s no replacing Sean Lee’s production. But if Durant can at least step up and hold down the fort until Lee returns, the Cowboys could stand a chance against the division-leading Eagles.
But that remains a big “if”.