Make no mistakes about it; Sean Lee is the Dallas Cowboys most important defensive player. He may not yet be the best (that title still likely belongs to Demarcus Ware) or the highest paid (Terrence Newman is getting paid more by the Cowboys this year…) but Sean Lee is what makes this defense tick. He calls the plays. He makes a ridiculous percentage of the tackles. He has half the interceptions. And now, he's gone.
Sean Lee has been placed on the season-ending IR list and is scheduled to have surgery to replace ligament damage in his big toe. We've seen a few instances this season where players have been taken off the IR list (notably Terrell Suggs), but that does not look like an option for Lee in this case. The best case scenario looks to be not seeing #50 calling plays for the defensive until next training camp.
We'll miss you Sean. Get well soon! (Getty)
In his absence, the Cowboys will rely heavily on 2nd year player Bruce Carter and former Panther Dan Connor. Both players have played well in stretches (Carter more so than Connor), but both will need to step up big. Carter will be relied upon to relay Rob Ryan's defensive play calls from the sideline to the huddle, just as he did in the 2nd half against Carolina. The Cowboys have also signed journeyman Ernie Sims to the roster spot vacated by Lee. Sims, the former Detroit Lions first-round pick in 2006, will have to play catch up in learning Ryan's schemes before he can be relied upon on the field.
While Dan Connor was signed this offseason as a contingency plan, it was more so to supplant Carter if he wasn't ready than to take snaps away from Lee. Connor is an able veteran, but has often looked slow and Keith Brooking-like in coverage against opposing TE's this year. We will need to keep an eye on whether or not Eli Manning and Co. look to attack the seam with Martellus Bennett, and what type of success they have doing it.
Another interesting development could be how Rob Ryan looks to cover up the loss of Lee. He has been known to adapt his scheme to using the best 11 players on the field. Maybe we see more 4-3 looks from Ryan instead of the 3-4 we're so used to? Is having 4 D-lineman (likely Hatcher, Ratliff, Brent, and Coleman/Spears) more useful than putting Connor in there? Again, another thing to keep an eye on.
Overall, this is a major loss for the Dallas Cowboys. Outside of #9, it's hard to think of a more irreplaceable member of the 2012 Dallas Cowboys. It will be up to everyone in the organization to compensate for the loss of such an integral piece of this team. If they cannot replace him, the results for the newly-stout Dallas defense could be terrifying.
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