I want to start off by saying this defense is night and day when Sean Lee is or isn’t on the field. The way this defense runs, schematically, places a huge amount of pressure on the linebackers to make a large amount of tackles and to be fast reading and reacting sideline to sideline. I’m not sure there is a better Linebacker in the league than Lee when it comes to reading, reacting, and then moving sideline to sideline through traffic and delivering a hit.
When Lee comes out of the game his presence in the middle is missed terribly.
The Cowboys defense is at its best when the Linebackers are able to avoid getting locked up by offensive lineman. Especially against the Eagles offense and all of the shotgun sweeps they like to run, the linebackers must read the pulling guards and then beat them to the outside, and force the run back inside.
Too often this past Sunday the linebackers were slow getting to the outside and thus were picked up by the guards and pushed backwards. Give the Eagles credit, as seemingly every time they ran the sweep and the Cowboys linebackers were caught up inside, the Eagles RBs were consistently able to make a secondary player miss and gain extra yards.
Many people have been critical of Rolando McClain since his return from a 4 game suspension, and rightfully so, as he has not been the same version of his 2014 self.
However, in this game I feel he played better than he has thus far this season. While he didn’t show up much in the stat line, I believe his presence was felt in the run game.
He was consistently able to attack the outside shoulder of the tackle and force the play back inside and allow his teammates to rally for the tackle. Where he went wrong sometimes was being overly aggressive jumping to the outside too fast, and allowing a hole in the middle of the defense for cutbacks. Even sometimes jumping to conclusions, expecting a sweep, and the play ending up being a draw.
With the Cowboys only having 2 LBs on the field most of the time, being in position is crucial, and taking yourself out of the play voluntarily really hurts the defense, leading to big gains in the run game.
Andrew Gachkar, I believe, played as well as we could have asked in this game.
He was put into a tough situation, having to come in for the injured Lee and Hitchens in the second half. He struggled at times getting outside fast enough vs. the sweeps, but that is not the kind of player he is.
Gachkar is at his best when the play comes right at him, allowing him to take on a blocker, disengage and make a play on the ball. He showed this ability a couple of times this past Sunday, and also played very effectively in pass coverage.
In the pass game I believe the Cowboys LBs faired well. Aside from the long wheel route that DeMarco Murray was able to have on Anthony Hitchens, the RBs were quiet in the passing game.
Going up against a very talented RB core this was not an easy task, especially with keeping Darren Sproles quiet in an offense that loves to utilize screens and easy completions to the RBs.