Throughout the course of the 2022 season, the Dallas Cowboys have suffered their fair share of impactful injuries. From Tyron Smith in the preseason to Dak Prescott in Week 1 to Anthony Brown in Week 13, Dallas knows the adversity that inevitably comes with injury.
The Cowboys have had to adapt, like most NFL teams by this stage, and have replaced multiple players on both sides of the ball. They look like a much different team today than they did just one month ago, much less way back in July when training camp started.
While they may have gone 4-1 in December, they’ve struggled on both sides of the ball, providing fuel for one of the most pessimistic 12-4 fan base the NFL has ever seen. Yet, good news may be on the horizon. With the playoffs fast approaching, Dallas may be welcoming back a few key players whose losses have directly led to some of the Cowboys’ recent struggles.
Since getting drafted in 2018’s first round, Vander Esch has had a roller-coaster career on the Cowboys. As a rookie he dropped jaws, won Pro Bowl honors, and drew comparisons to the great Brian Urlacher.
After a handful of injuries, he crashed back to earth, playing just nine games in 2019 and 10 games in 2020. Suddenly, the Dallas star linebacker was looking more Brian Bosworth than Brian Urlacher. This eventually led to a declined fifth-year option from the Dallas front office and a potential rebuild at the linebacker position.
But after a bounce-back 2021 season, the Cowboys brought back their former first rounder for a more team-friendly fifth year in 2022. And Vander Esch has rewarded them immensely, becoming a key part of the Dallas run-defense and a respected on-the-field leader for defensive unit as a whole.
Therefore, it wasn’t overly surprising that losing Vander Esch in Week 15 produced near-disastrous results.
Since Vander Esch left the lineup, the defense has regressed. Over the last three weeks the Dallas defense has given up and average of 421 yards and 29 points, ranking the unit deep into the bottom half of the league.
Getting a smart player like Vander Esch back for the playoffs wouldn’t just elevate the linebacker position itself, but the defense as a whole.
When the Cowboys traded for Hankins back in October, fans weren’t quite sure what they were getting with the 33-year-old veteran tackle. Hankins had become an expendable player in Las Vegas, and in his tenth season, it seemed he was well past his prime.
Beggars can’t be choosers and the Cowboys needed to address their lack of girth in the middle of their defensive line. Teams were running far too easily on Dallas, and outside of Quinton Bohanna, Dallas was lacking true run pluggers.
It’s safe to say, Hankins did not disappoint when he joined Dallas.
The Cowboys defense changed considerably with Hankins inserted. Rushing success dropped with him on the field because he occupied space and kept jerseys clean behind him. Vander Esch, specifically, feasted when Hankins was disrupting blockers.
Hankins has carved out a big role in Dallas and given the number of short yardage situations he plays, he’s a key player in most high-leverage game situations.
Biadasz was enjoying a career season before he went down with a frightening injury against the Titans in Week 17. When it was learned his injury wasn’t as bad as it first appeared and Biadasz might make it back for the postseason, fans could breath a collective sigh of relief.
To compensate for the loss of Biadasz, the Cowboys had to alter the entire left side of their offensive line. Connor McGovern moved from guard to center, Tyler Smith moved from tackle to guard and Jason Peters came in to take over at tackle.
While all parties performed admirably, it was all far from ideal. No one played as well as the man they replaced and chemistry was clearly lacking from the trio as a whole.
With Biadasz potentially coming back for the playoffs, the Cowboys should see improvement across their line as everyone moves back to their regular role.
With one game left on the schedule and a few potential bumps still ahead on each of their respective roads to recovery, nothing here is written in stone.
Yet, all indications are the Cowboys are planning on these three players to be back for the postseason and that should have an enormous impact on both sides of the ball.