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Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Lee might be harder to replace than Romo

By Tim MacMahon

Linebacker Sean Lee's likely absence has received a tiny fraction of the attention quarterback Tony Romo's injury has, but it's arguably just as big of a blow for the Dallas Cowboys in Sunday's de facto NFC East title game.

Lee
There's no doubt that Lee made a more significant impact than Romo in the Cowboys' 17-3 win over the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this season.

Romo had a decent outing on that windy October day at Lincoln Financial Field, completing 28 of 47 passes for 317 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Lee was absolutely dominant, recording 12 tackles (one for loss), an interception, a pass broken up and a quarterback pressure to earn NFC defensive player of the week honors.

Lee was a major reason that Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who leads the league with 1,476 rushing yards, was not a factor in that game. The Cowboys held McCoy to 55 yards on 18 carries.

There's also a much steeper dropoff from Lee than Romo to their backups.

The Cowboys at least have an adequate backup plan in place for Romo, who is unlikely to play due to a back injury. As Jerry Jones noted, Dallas signed Kyle Orton to a three-year, $10.5 million deal so they'd have a seasoned starter ready to go if a situation like this occurred. Orton has a 35-34 record as a starter.

If Ernie Sims is sidelined by a strained groin for the second consecutive week, the Cowboys will be forced to start sixth-round rookie DeVonte Holloman at middle linebacker again in place of Lee, who is doubtful due to a sprained neck. Holloman's NFL experience consists of a total of eight games, playing primarily on special teams. He converted from safety in college and was drafted as a strong side linebacker, moving to the middle only after injuries to Lee, Justin Durant and Sims.

The franchise quarterback's bad back is the biggest news at Valley Ranch this week. But the quarterback of the defense's sprained neck leaves a hole that might be even harder to fill.