High 5: How badly will injury bug bite?

The fourth in ESPNDallas.com's five-part series looking at factors that must go Dallas’ way in a big way for the Cowboys to be contenders this season.

If Monte Kiffin’s defense in 2002 lost Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Shelton Quarles and Dexter Jackson to injured reserve and had Simeon Rice playing with one arm, do you think the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would have won the Super Bowl that season?

Of course not.

That’s not to make excuses for Rob Ryan last season, but the simple fact is that no defensive coordinator is going to succeed if hit with that many key injuries. The collective wisdom of Kiffin and Rod Marinelli wouldn’t be enough to overcome the losses of Jay Ratliff, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter and Barry Church, as well as DeMarcus Ware being forced to play with one arm.

And it was awfully tough for the Cowboys’ offense to overcome DeMarco Murray missing six games and Miles Austin spending the entire season nursing nagging hamstring issues.

The injury bug took a Jaws-like chomp out of the Cowboys last season. To put a positive spin on it, the difference between 8-8 and a double-digit win campaign and NFC East championship could just be a little luck.

Of course, the durability concern with several of the key Cowboys – Lee, Carter, Murray, Austin – dates to well before last season. But they all enter training camp with a clean bill of health, giving the Cowboys hope that this season can be different.