On Thursday, the team lost linebacker Leighton Vander Esch for at least the next game, and possibly longer.
As first reported by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Vander Esch is not expected to play in Sunday’s road tilt against the New England Patriots due to an ongoing neck injury, which the Cowboys will “continue to monitor.”
It’s for naught as far as Week 12 is concerned. Local beat writers have since confirmed that Vander Esch is out for the season-defining showdown. What’s worse, if his neck doesn’t improve, he’s likely also to miss Dallas’ Thanksgiving afternoon contest versus Buffalo.
Sources confirm that Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch will sit out the Patriots game due to neck injury. Had MRI today. Cowboys hoping neck will calm down. If he misses Patriots game, it’s likely he sits out Thanksgiving Day as well. Sean Lee will likely start at WLB.
And ESPN’s Todd Archer:
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch will not play Sunday at the New England Patriots because of a neck injury and is considered week to week, sources told ESPN.
Vander Esch’s injury flared up in practice, which led to an MRI. He will have another MRI in three weeks, according to a source.
Vander Esch, who’s made 72 tackles and notched three pass deflections as a sophomore, was not listed on the practice report Wednesday or Thursday. But it seems, as Rapoport stated, head coach Jason Garrett could formally rule out the second-year ‘backer — or declare him questionable, at best — when the final report is released Friday.
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Replacing Vander Esch
LVE originally sustained a neck stinger in the Cowboys’ 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 led the club with 12 tackles (nine solo).
Lee will slide back into the starting role opposite Jaylon Smith. The Cowboys may also turn to backup Joe Thomas for additional depth — “may” being the keyword, as Thomas did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday due to an elbow injury.
Obviously, Vander Esch’s loss stings worse considering the opponent. New England boasts the third-best offense in points (28.7 per game) and the seventh-best passing attack (268.9 YPG). Fortunately for Dallas, the Pats are struggling on the ground, averaging just 91.0 YPG, which ranks 24th overall.
Rest of Injury Report
Cowboys right tackle La’el Collins missed practice for a second consecutive day as he nurses knee and back ailments. The club hopes he gets in a limited session Friday, increasing his chances of suiting up at Gillette Stadium.
Left guard Connor Williams, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery earlier this month, again practiced on a limited basis and appears in line to start Sunday. Ditto for right guard Zack Martin, who’s dealing with back, ankle, and elbow issues.
Wide receiver Amari Cooper (knee) was a full participant on Wednesday and Thursday. He declared himself good to go. As did safety Jeff Heath, who’s pushing through shoulder injuries.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL