Connect with us

Star Blog

Cowboys Linebacker Trio Set to Dominate

Matthew Lenix

Published

on

Cowboys Linebacker Trio set to Dominate

If you have one linebacker who can perform on a high level on your roster you've been blessed. Having two players with this capability should be a crime. The Dallas Cowboys, however, are in the rare position of having three at their disposal.

Jaylon Smith entered the NFL with a world of potential and a future of uncertainty. In his final collegiate game at Notre Dame against Ohio State in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl, he suffered a gruesome knee injury. He tore both his ACL and MCL which lead to him sitting out his entire first year in the NFL. After a strenuous rehab that lasted a year and a half, Smith has set the NFL on fire. 2017 saw him register 81 tackles as he still tried to find his groove and return to form. By last season, however, he put his name in the conversation with the leagues best at the linebacker position.

His 121 tackles are what will jump out at most fans but let's dig a little deeper. According to Pro Football Focus, his pass-rush grade of 84.8 ranked second among all linebackers in 2018. You can bet this contributed to his 4 sacks last season which is a high number for any player at the position. Also, his coverage grade (80.6) ranked 11th and his overall grade (84.5) ranked 6th.

This all from a man that just two years ago was wearing an Ankle-Foot Orthosis (AFO) device as he dealt with a condition called drop foot. Now the human-cyborg is causing sleepless nights for offensive coordinators league-wide.

Leighton Vander Esch generated plenty of headlines when he was taken in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, but not positive ones for the most part. The selection of the virtually unknown rookie was ridiculed by "experts" across the football landscape, but not for long.

He would shatter the Cowboys rookie record for tackles with 140. Last November in a game against the Eagles, he set the all-time team record for tackles in a game with 19. You want coverage skills well he's not lacking in that department either. He racked up 7 passes defended and was tied for the team lead with two interceptions. According to Pro Football Focus, his coverage grade (82.0) was 10th for all linebackers. To top it all off, his overall grade (85.7) was good for 4th at the position.


2019 can only be more productive for Vander Esch simply because he'll have more opportunities. He only managed 11 starts last season but lead the team in tackles and was named a pro bowler and a second-team All-Pro.

Cowboys Linebacker Trio set to Dominate 1

Smith and Vander Esch were the only set of teammates to both rank in the top 15 in tackles last season. They're entering years two and three of their careers respectively on the field, things can only get better moving forward.

The man that completes this trio is Sean Lee. At one time, his name was in the conversation with Bobby Wagner and Luke Kuechly for who was the best linebacker in the sport. Unfortunately for Lee, as has been the case for most of his career, the injury woes always seem to pop up. The Cowboys defensive philosophy can hopefully turn this trend around. Running mostly out of the nickel package, which requires only two linebackers, Lee will have his snap count lowered with Smith and Vander Esch doing most of the dirty work.

Lee is 33 going into the season with a lot of football miles and injuries on his body. Preserving him as much as possible while he still can perform at a high level is paramount.

The Cowboys top 5 rushing defense from a season ago was spearheaded in large part by Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. Both have established themselves as two of the better coverage linebackers in the NFL as well. With Sean Lee taking less of a physical pounding going forward, the Cowboys can produce what I believe to be the best trio of linebackers on any team league-wide. Of course, they'll need the injury gods on their side but the pieces for an elite core of linebackers are there in Dallas.


Advertisement
Comments

Star Blog

Dallas Cowboys CB Chidobe Awuzie Becoming a Red Zone Liability?

Brian Martin

Published

on

Cowboys CB Chidobe Awuzie Becoming a Redzone Liability?

Dallas Cowboys Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie is arguably as talented as just about any defensive back in the NFL. He still young and has quite a bit he can do to improve his game, but there's no denying his talent. One of the things he may need to work on right now is his awareness and discipline in the red zone.

In back to back games No. 24 has been caught out of position and as a result surrendered points in the end zone. Just this last Sunday he gave up a two point conversion to Minnesota Vikings Tight End Kyle Rudolph. The week prior he gave up a touchdown catch to New York Giants Wide Receiver Cody Latimer.

Does this make him a liability in the red zone?

I know if I've noticed Chidobe Awuzie getting victimized in back to back weeks in the red zone opposing offensive coordinators around the league have done the same. As a result, they're going to test Awuzie to find out if they can have the same kind of success.


Chidobe Awuzie

Dallas Cowboys CB Chidobe Awuzie

If I'm Kris Richard I'm personally going to be working on making sure Chidobe is fully aware he needs to be more disciplined with his play, especially in the red zone. He's been caught out of position in back to back games and that can't be something that continues from here on out.

I'm sure Awuzie would tell you himself this is something he needs to clean up. He takes pride in his abilities and knows he can still improve. Hopefully he can take it to heart and better prepare for what's to come. Whether that means just executing his assignments better or maybe studying a little more film. It's up to him to figure out what he needs to do.

As far as the Dallas Cowboys are concerned though, they may need to start giving him a little more help over the top if this is something that continues. And if worse comes to worse, they can always see if Jourdan Lewis or Anthony Brown can be more consistent. I doubt it would come to that, but it is an option.

I for one am hoping No. 24 will just hunker down and figure out what he needs to do in order to take his game to the next level. If he can do that the Cowboys defense will be much better for it. I don't know about you, but I will be keeping a close eye on him for the rest of the season.

Do you think CB Chidobe Awuzie has become a red zone liability?


Continue Reading

Star Blog

Maliek Collins has a Breakout Opportunity Against the Minnesota Vikings

John Williams

Published

on

Cowboys DT's Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods Primed for Monster Seasons

It's been a quiet 2019 for one of the Dallas Cowboys' preseason breakout candidates, Maliek Collins. Heading into training camp, and then the regular season, Collins was the healthiest he'd been at any point in his previous three seasons. That combined with another year in the NFL, led many to believe that Collins could become a dominant 3-technique defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys. Collins has been good, but perhaps not as productive as many might have predicted.

On the year, Maliek Collins has three sacks, which is third for the Dallas Cowboys behind Robert Quinn and DeMarcus Lawrence. Per Pro Football Focus, Collins is tied for 17th in the NFL among interior defensive linemen. Tied for 17th might not sound very good, but when the league leader in sacks among interior defensive linemen has just six, Collins isn't far off from threatening for the league lead. In fact, Maliek Collins is tied with All-Pro Defensive Tackles Fletcher Cox, Chris Jones, and Geno Atkins in sacks.

In total pressures, Collins is tied for eighth in the NFL per Pro Football Focus with 27 along with Quentin Jefferson and Vita Vea.

Though he's not racking up a ton of tackle this season, Collins has been excellent as a pass rusher. On Sunday Night Football against the Minnesota Vikings, he'll have a tremendous opportunity to build on his first-half numbers.


Against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football, Collins has an enormous opportunity. Among quarterbacks with at least 196 drop backs, Minnesota Vikings Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been under pressure at the fourth highest rate in the NFL. His 40.8% pressure rate is only better than Daniel Jones, Russell Wilson, and Sam Darnold.

Vikings Guard Pat Elflein has allowed five sacks on the year, which is tied for the third most in the NFL this season among interior offensive linemen and his 20 pressures allowed is tied for eighth. When Maliek Collins gets an opportunity to line up across from Elflein, he's going to have a chance to get home.

With teams having to pay so much attention to DeMarcus Lawrence, Robert Quinn, and newcomer Michael Bennett, Collins should be freed up to face more one-on-one blockers.

Collins hasn't had a bad season by any stretch of the imagination, but he hasn't necessarily been the dominant player we thought he could be after his strong preseason. That perception could change when the Dallas Cowboys play the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football. The opportunity is there for Collins, he just has to seize it.


Continue Reading

Star Blog

Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith Quietly Having a Good Season

Matthew Lenix

Published

on

Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith Quietly Having a Good Season

The Dallas Cowboys started to get the return on their investment of Jaylon Smith in a major way in 2018. He finished with 121 tackles (six tackles for loss), four sacks, four passes defended, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and a touchdown.

With that type of production comes lofty expectations. Dak Prescott is off to the best start of his career, All-Pro Ezekiel Elliott has found his groove with three consecutive 100-yard performances, and Amari Cooper is on pace for his best season as a pro. However, quietly, Smith is on pace to have the best season of his young career so far.

In the season opener vs the New York Giants, the Cowboys completely dominated the game virtually from the start defensively. After a touchdown on their first possession, the Giants were shut down and only scored 10 points the rest of the game. Smith would register only six tackles for the game but the Cowboys were up as much as 25 points so it wasn't really necessary for him to ball out in this contest.

Week 2 vs the Washington Redskins on the road was another solid effort defensively for the Cowboys. They held the Redskins in check behind Smith's team-leading 11 tackles as the Cowboys only allowed 255 yards of offense and two conversions on nine third downs.

The Miami Dolphins came to town in Week 3 as the Cowboys looked to improve to 3-0. The Dolphins offense never got on track as they only managed 283 total yards, went a pedestrian three of 15 on third down, gave up three sacks, and scored six points. Smith once again led the team in tackles with 10 and also forced a fumble in the red zone that was recovered by All-Pro DeMarcus Lawrence when the Dolphins were driving to take the lead before halftime. Very productive game for Smith in this one.

Week 4 was a defensive battle between the Cowboys and the New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night Football. The Saints came out on top 12-10 giving the Cowboys their first loss but one of the bright spots was the play of Smith. All around it was one of his better performances of the season with nine tackles (two tackles for loss), one quarterback hit, and a sack. This performance gave him 30 tackles over a three-game span which is his best stretch of the 2019 season.


The Green Bay Packers arrived at AT&T Stadium in Week 5 having won three consecutive games there, and it was quickly apparent they would win their fourth straight. The Cowboys had two turnovers on their first three possessions that led to two touchdowns for the Packers and the Cowboys never recovered. Despite holding Aaron Rodgers to zero touchdowns the Cowboys gave up a career day to Aaron Jones with 182 all-purpose yards (107 rushing, 75 receiving) and lost 34-24. Smith finished with nine tackles (tied Leighton Vander Esch for the team lead), one quarterback hit, one pass defended, and a sack. In a game that wasn't as close as the score indicated Smith was one of the few bright spots for Dallas.

The Cowboys entered Metlife Stadium for their Week 6 matchup with the New York Jets completely spiraling and it wouldn't get any better. Defensively, the Cowboys started flat by allowing 21 points in the first half. Even though they only allowed three points in the second half, Sam Darnold had a career-high 338 yards and the Jets handed the Cowboys their third consecutive loss. This would be Smith's most underwhelming performance of the season with a pedestrian four tackles. None of the impactful plays we saw from the previous three games showed up in this one.

Before the bye week, the Cowboys hosted the Philadelphia Eagles in a battle for first place in the NFC East. Smith wasted no time making an impact in this game as he forced a fumble by Tight End Dallas Goedert on the Eagles first possession near midfield which set up the Cowboys first touchdown. This set the tone for the entire defense as they held the Eagles to 283 yards total yards, only allowed 10 points and forced four turnovers. Smith tied Sean Lee and Jeff Heath for the team lead with seven tackles while also registering a pass defended and a forced fumble. Just the type of performance you'd hope for from Smith after his worst game of the season.

This past Monday night saw the Cowboys return to Metlife Stadium but this time they would take on the arch-rival New York Giants. Smith spearheaded a dominant performance by the Cowboys defense as they held the Giants to 271 total yards, five out of 16 on third down, and forced three turnovers. He finished tied with Lee for the team lead with 12 tackles while also adding a half-sack and a quarterback hit. With the Eagles on the Cowboys heels for the division lead, they needed their best players to perform vs the Giants and Smith definitely delivered on his end.

Jaylon Smith is currently on pace for 136 tackles and five sacks which would both be career highs. In five of the Cowboys eight games, he's either led or been tied for the team lead in tackles. He has continued to show that he's worth every penny of the five-year 64 million dollar extension with 35.5 million in guarantees he signed in August. His "Clear Eye View" has him playing the best football of his career in 2019.

 


Continue Reading
Cowboys News App - Sidebar Large Block



Enjoy 40% commissions on officially licensed products as a FanPrint affiliate. You can even make your own, fully licensed Cowboys and player designs! Get started here

Trending