Cowboys scrambling with Lee's absence

December, 13, 2013
12/13/13
3:30
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett does not have a military background, but he has quickly learned how to improvise, adapt and overcome.

It's a message he spreads to his team on a daily basis.

[+] Enlarge Sean Lee
AP Photo/James D. SmithSean Lee's latest injury setback puts a strain on the Cowboys' quest for the postseason.
With Sean Lee out of Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers because of a neck injury suffered in Monday's loss to the Chicago Bears, the Cowboys' coaches will have to improvise, Justin Durant will have to adapt and the rest of the team will have to overcome.

If the Cowboys want to make the playoffs, it is the only way.

Durant should replace Lee at inside linebacker. His only other work there was a handful of snaps he played after Lee was hurt against the New Orleans Saints. Unfortunately for Durant, his night ended too soon with a hamstring as well.

Ernie Sims will replace Bruce Carter at weak side linebacker with Carter out with a hamstring injury. Kyle Wilber will start his third straight game at strong side linebacker, a position he never played before a month ago.

Lee leads the Cowboys in tackles despite missing two-plus games. He did not play against the New York Giants or Oakland Raiders because of a hamstring injury. He also leads the Cowboys with four interceptions and is tied for the team lead with five tackles for loss.

Unfortunately for the Cowboys, there have been too many stories that have used the phrase, "when healthy" in discussing Lee. As in "when healthy," Lee is among the best middle linebackers in football. But he has yet to make it through a season fully healthy. Part of the money he could earn in the $42 million extension he signed this summer is tied to his health.

If he plays in 80 percent of the snaps this season or next, he would add $1.5 million to his 2015 base salary. With this setback, he will likely have to wait for next year to earn that escalator in his deal.

The Cowboys are not sure if Lee will be able to play in the final two regular-season games either. He needs to get the strength and mobility back in his neck to get on the field. As much as Lee wants to play, the Cowboys will have to make this a medical decision.

They were able to beat the Giants and Raiders without Lee. They have to hope they can beat the Packers and Washington Redskins and their backup quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Kirk Cousins without Lee to possibly set up a winner-take-all showdown on Week 17 against Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles.

Once again the Cowboys will see if they can improvise, adapt and overcome.

Todd Archer

ESPN Dallas Cowboys reporter

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