FRISCO, TX — Things can't get worse for the Dallas Cowboys this week as it pertains to their playoff seeding, guaranteed to not fall below the No. 5 seed, but they walk into the regular season finale against the Washington Commanders with a chance at taking the NFC East and possibly more. No matter where they land, though, Leighton Vander Esch will be ready — helmet in hand.
The former Pro Bowl linebacker will likely miss the coming battle at FedEx Stadium, his second consecutive absence, after suffering a pinched nerve in his shoulder/neck in the overtime loss against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Dec. 18.
He's expected to return when the playoffs get underway and, in speaking with him on Monday, his tone was one of starvation.
"I'll say it 100x, I feel good," said Vander Esch. "I'm just focused on helping the team this week, with this game and getting everybody locked in and ready — get our game plan going — [because] we gotta go win this game, too. We're not taking any weight off of the gas pedal."
The former All-Pro has been lights-out for the Cowboys this season, nearly mirroring the dominance of his rookie campaign (2018) when his 140 combined tackles (team-high) earned him league-wide honors, including being named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team.
Despite having missed the previous two games, he trails only safety Donovan Wilson in that category in 2022, and his impact has been highlighted that much more so by his absence — Vander Esch being key in helping the run defense hold firm as well as playing sideline to sideline in defense against screen/bubble passes.
With the playoffs set to get underway soon, however, the Wolf Hunter is on track to suit up for the tournament; and not a moment too soon.
"Just working out and trying to stay in shape for the playoffs," Vander Esch said. "[Keeping] my body up to playing speed and getting ready to go back out there and make this [playoff] run."