Losing linebacker Sean Lee has become a devastating blow for the Dallas Cowboys’ defense.
It showed in Sunday’s 27-7 loss to the Atlanta Falcons when Lee exited late in the first quarter after aggravating a hamstring injury.
“Everyone knows he’s our best player; he’s our guy,” linebacker Anthony Hitchens said. “Obviously, it’s going to be a challenge if he can’t play. We have to step up and use the guys we got in the room.”
Easier said than done.
The Falcons scored 24 of their 27 points after Lee exited the game. The Falcons’ running game went from having negative yardage in the first quarter to averaging more than 5 yards a carry in the second quarter.
“It may be a confidence thing for our defense,” defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford said. “Whatever it is, we’ve got to figure it out. He’s obviously going through an injury right now. We’ve got to figure it out to get in there and play good ball if he’s not up with us.”
Lee has already missed two games for the Cowboys this season — losses to the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers in Weeks 4 and 5. In those games, the Rams had 412 yards of total offense, including 168 yards on the ground, and the Packers had 342 yards, including 160 on the ground.
Owner Jerry Jones didn’t want to speculate on how long Lee could be out, but is baffled like everybody else as to why the defense sputters without him.
“I really was disappointed and worried when he left the field,” Jones said. “We knew he was gone the minute he left. He told us on the sideline. He’s an integral part of our success and I knew it was going to make, it was going to be more difficult for us to slow an Atlanta team down that we have a lot of respect for offensively.”
Jaylon Smith, who leads the team in tackles, replaced Lee. But the Cowboys coaching staff would like to use Smith in a more limited role as he continues to work his way into the pro game after sitting out last season rehabbing from a severe knee injury.
But Smith is ready to go with the “next man up” philosophy.
“He’s the leader of the defense, so there’s automatically going to be a void when you don’t have the captain of your defense out there,” Smith said. “There’s no excuses at the end of the day. The next man up, you have to do your job. You have to execute.”
Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick appeared to be going after coach Jason Garrett in heated fashion in the waning moments of Sunday’s loss.
But what the TV cameras caught was competitive passion, rather than a meltdown between coach and player, Scandrick and Garrett said after the game.
“Me and Coach Garrett was not going at it,” Scandrick said. “Me and Coach Garrett was having a passionate conversation and he just listened and I told him that we need to finish games. I don’t care if we’re up 20 or down 20.
“I think if you’re healthy and the way we compete around here, and the way we preach about competing, we need to do that from Play 1 to Play 60, however many we played. That’s just what I was expressing to him.”
Scandrick was frustrated by Falcons running back Tevin Coleman seemingly going untouched for a 25-yard touchdown with 2 minutes left in the game. The play was called back because of a holding penalty.
Asked if there were any healthy starters not playing in the final moments, Scandrick declined to point a finger at his teammates.
“I’m not here talking about that,” Scandrick said. “I felt like we need to fight to the end. … When they’re trying to run the clock out and scoring touchdowns and we get saved by penalties, that’s a problem. That looks bad. That looks bad on my leadership. That looks bad on all of our captains’ leadership, you know what I’m saying? I felt like me and Coach Garrett have that type of relationship that I can go speak to him.”
Scandrick said Garrett understood.
Garrett, overhearing the conversation in the locker room, walked over and confirmed Scandrick’s side of the story. He called the veteran cornerback one of the most competitive players he has ever been around.