This season, perhaps due to injury, Dallas Cowboy linebacker Leighton Vander Esch’s play has fallen off. Fortunately, veteran Sean Lee has excelled.
Looking back at last Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots, there’s an awful lot that went wrong for the Dallas Cowboys. Indeed, the postmortem in the media and on Twitter has been downright ugly. And really, I don’t disagree with the sour grapes.
In fact, for once I agree with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. With all the talent on the team, the Cowboys should be much better than they’re playing. They should have won more games.
But even in the darkest night, there are a few shining stars. Though this game was downright painful to watch, there was at least one thing that went well. The defense played mostly solid football, holding the Super Bowl champs to only 13 points.
And if there was one thing the defense did better than in recent weeks, it was tackling. They weren’t perfect, but they were definitely better. So, what was the difference? Did the Cowboys do anything different on defense?
Technically, Jaylon Smith started at middle linebacker and Sean Lee slid over to his old spot at weakside linebacker. Either way, Vander Esch wasn’t in the starting lineup and Sean Lee was.
I don’t want to come down too hard on Vander Esch. He was one of the best defensive rookies in the NFL last year and made the Pro Bowl. It was no fluke. He played great all through the regular season, making some amazing plays.
Just as one example, last year, Vander Esch made several interceptions over the course of the season. This year, more than midway through, he doesn’t have even one.
But the biggest difference in the LVE’s game has been in his lunch-bucket play. And I don’t mean just tackling, though that’s a big part of it. His vision and backfield penetration haven’t looked as good this year either.
A big part of great linebacker play is quickly diagnosing where the ball is going, and getting there faster than anyone else, then completing the tackle.
Sean Lee has always been great at this. In fact, he made a few great plays like that in this game. But last year, Vander Esch seemed to have a Lee-like sense of where the ball was going and the ability to finish.