Cowboys Announce Status of Leighton Vander Esch for Week 13 vs. Bills

Leighton Vander Esch

Getty Leighton Vander Esch

It’s unclear when, if it all, Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch will return to the field this season. What’s certain is that he’ll be cheering from the sidelines on Turkey Day.

Vander Esch, nursing a worrisome neck stinger, will miss his second consecutive game Thursday against the Buffalo Bills after Cowboys coach Jason Garrett formally ruled him out.

LVE originally sustained the stinger in Dallas’ Week 7 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. He was sidelined for the following game, a post-bye win against the New York Giants, giving way to veteran LB Sean Lee, who collected six stops (four solo) and a pass deflection in last week’s loss to the Patriots.

Lee will continue starting at weakside ‘backer, with reserve LB Joe Thomas also seeing extended snaps opposite Jaylon Smith.

Vander Esch’s absence could be felt as the Bills boast the NFL’s fifth-best rushing attack, averaging 139.2 yards per game. They have three players with at least 300 yards on the ground, including fleet-footed quarterback Josh Allen, who’s picked up 387 yards and seven touchdowns across 83 scampers.

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Cowboys Issue Update on LVE … Sort of

On Tuesday, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones unofficially declared Vander Esch out for Week 13, which came as no surprise considering the second-year stud’s absence was termed indefinite. He had no chance of playing just four days after Dallas’ last contest. Beyond that, Jones didn’t reveal much.

“I don’t expect to have him this week,” he said on 105.3 The Fan, via the team website. “That’s about all I can say.”

Garrett was a little more forthcoming, telling reporters Tuesday that although there are no major developments to proclaim, the club is confident that Vander Esch, having avoided surgery, will return following some R&R — rest and rehab.

Woods Out, Too

As previously reported, Cowboys defensive tackle Antwaun Woods will not suit up versus Buffalo. Woods sustained a sprained knee in Dallas’ defeat at Foxboro, potentially related to the MCL injury he suffered earlier this year. The team’s starting nose man, he’s provided 15 tackles in eight appearances. He initially went down in Week 2 and missed three games before returning to the lineup on Oct. 13.

As they did before, Dallas will deploy a two-man rotation of versatile backup Christian Covington and second-round rookie Trysten Hill in Woods’ stead. They’ll join starters DeMarcus Lawrence, Robert Quinn and Maliek Collins.

The No. 58 overall selection of the 2019 draft, Hill has rarely seen the field, notching just one tackle across four appearances. Normally a healthy scratch, Hill last dressed in the Cowboys’ Week 7 blowout of the Eagles. He went from the outhouse to the doghouse in October, falling asleep in a meeting while NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas addressed the squad.

It’s also possible, if not likely, that DE Michael Bennett kicks inside to help offset the loss of Woods. Like Quinn, Bennett’s been a revelation in his first year with the Cowboys, logging nine solo tackles and three sacks across 180 defensive snaps.

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Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL