Injuries to Key Players Amid Dallas Defensive Struggles

Cowboys Defensive Struggles

The Dallas defensive struggles lately are due to key players suffering injuries, some season-ending. The Dallas Cowboys have been an elite defense all season long until some key players hit the injured reserve (IR) list. The Cowboys defensive struggles began with the 2-12-1 Houston Texans in Week  14. The Cowboys followed up a poor effort with back-to-back games giving up 40 and 34 points, consecutively. This trend is concerning for a Cowboys team looking to avoid another first-round exit.

READ MORE: Micah Parsons, Run Defense Crucial Against Titans

Dallas Defensive Struggles Due to Key Injuries

Cowboys Defense was Stifling in the Early Season

The Dallas Cowboys opened up the 2022 season by losing Dak Prescott to a hand injury. Prescott required surgery after hitting his thumb against Shaq Barret’s hand in a 19-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Dallas would have to look to Cooper Rush to stay afloat in the surprisingly competitive NFC East.

Rush played well minimizing turnovers and taking advantage of whatever the opposing defense was giving him after replacing Prescott. The Cowboys and Rush leaned on the defense defeating the Cincinnati Bengals, New York Giants, Washington Commanders, and Los Angeles Rams. The defense was absolutely sweltering during this stretch allowing no more than 17 points in any contest.

The defense made life miserable for opposing offenses with 18 sacks and six turnovers during this stretch. With the defense putting so much pressure on opposing offenses, Rush and the short-handed offense played much more conservatively and did just enough to win football games.

Mid-Season Defense

The Dallas defense started to look human again during the middle of the season. The Cowboys would get Prescott back from injury after a loss on the road to the Philadelphia Eagles. The defense would go on to give up 26, 29, and 31 points losing more games over the middle portion of the season. There were also some stellar defensive games surrendering only six, three, 20, and 19 points including 40-3 and 54-19 routes against the Minnesota Vikings and Indianapolis Colts.

The Cowboys would add 28 sacks and nine more turnovers to the season tally before entering the Texans game. The Dallas defense was starting to look scary and the immovable force of the NFC. Leaning on the defense, Dallas improved to 9-3 as the boys in blue were chasing down Philadelphia at 11-1

Injuries Making a Big Impact on the Defense

Anthony Brown is the first name on the IR impacting the defense. Brown was placed on IR after tearing his Achilles tendon against the Colts. Brown was having a great season with 42 tackles, one forced fumble, and seven passes defended. The secondary has not been the same since losing Brown surrendering 293 passing yards/game and seven passing touchdowns to the likes of Jeff Driskel, Trevor Lawrence, and backup Gardner Minshew.

Johnathan Hankins injured his pectoral muscle shortly after Brown’s placement on IR. Hankins was injured during the Texans game after a short stint with the Cowboys. Hankins arrived in Dallas on October 25th adding depth to an already-loaded defensive line. The Cowboys are getting nicked up and suffering more injuries down the stretch clearly missing some of the veteran stability and depth Hankins offered.

Leighton Vander Esch is the next name suffering injuries and missing time on the defensive side of the ball. Vander Esch suffered a neck injury against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He would not return after half-time and missed last week’s game against the Eagles. The linebacker from Boise State has racked up 90 tackles, a forced fumble, and a sack over the 2022 season. He is a key piece to help control the run game and underneath passing routes. He is now expected to miss Week 17 against the Tennessee Titans and the punishing Derrick Henry.

Players Questionable for Week 17

Sam Williams, Jayron Kearse, Demarcus Lawrence, and Micah Parsons are all listed as questionable for Week 17 against Tennessee. The Dallas defense is starting to break down as the season ends. With all these stars questionable they are doubtful to have a fresh and energetic defensive performance against Henry and his physical run style. Dallas will have to win this contest to hold out hope of catching Philadelphia for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. With injuries piling up the Cowboys are becoming thin at every level of the defense and are trending in the wrong direction.