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Cowboys Rookie LB Leighton Vander Esch May Be New Starter at SAM

Sean Martin



Cowboys Rookie LB Leighton Vander Esch May Be New Starter at SAM

Rookie Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has had quite the journey to the Dallas Cowboys, their 19th overall pick in this year's draft out of Boise State. The Cowboys drafting another player off the blue turf of Boise was nothing new, but they did make Vander Esch the first player in league history to be drafted from inside his own stadium.

Despite a training camp groin injury that threatened Vander Esch's rookie debut, Leighton is set to play his first home game on Sunday Night Football against the Giants at AT&T Stadium. Not only will LVE be looking to build off a three tackle performance in 17 snaps against the Panthers, but he could be in line to start at SAM LB over veteran Damien Wilson.

Jeff Cavanaugh on Twitter

The great and powerful @BryanBroaddus says don't be surprised if Vander Esch is the starting SAM backer this week against the Giants.

As expected, the Cowboys depth at linebacker is sorting itself out on the field. Even with Sean Lee struggling in week one at his usual WILL position, the Cowboys should feel confident in their defensive leader to bounce back this week against a divisional rival.

Thanks to new Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard, the Cowboys did some different things with their linebackers to open the season, including playing with three on the field more often than in the past. The Giants are typically a team that forces the Cowboys into a ton of Nickel defense, which DC Rod Marinelli is comfortable playing with two LBs on the field.

With RB Saquon Barkley in the backfield now though, the Giants are more balanced on offense, meaning the Cowboys could certainly have a use for a SAM linebacker like Vander Esch.

The strong side linebacker position is typically reserved for a physical player that can beat blocks and set the edge against the run, but this isn't the model the Cowboys have gone with here. Opening the door for LVE to play an expanded role in Sunday's game, Damien Wilson is much more of a read and react LB with speed and range at SAM.

His struggles against the Panthers power rushing game and read option were noticeable last week, as the Cowboys also gave LB snaps to Justin March-Lillard and Joe Thomas behind Lee and Jaylon Smith.

Marcus Mosher on Twitter

Here is a play with Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch all on the field at the same time.

Make no mistake that the Cowboys and Giants are fighting for relevancy to end Sunday's slate of games, already behind a loaded field of NFC contenders at 0-1. The Cowboys know they did more than enough on defense to win in Carolina, and now their historically young roster must overcome inexperience on offense to play a full 60 minutes.

If it's at all possible for the Cowboys defense to assist their offense even further, heavily criticized 19th overall pick Leighton Vander Esch is going to have his say for better or worse. This is what the Cowboys signed up for when drafting for need in the first round, finding themselves with an immediate need at linebacker if they have any hope of slowing down the Giants.

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys Rookie LB Leighton Vander Esch May Be New Starter at SAM" in the comments below. You can also email me at, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

1 Comment
  • Saul Molina

    Big mistake lve is a joke he sucks he stinks he is terrible worst pick ever

Game Notes

Monday Morning Hangover: Cowboys Bad Play in Seattle Continues

Brian Martin



Monday Morning Hangover: Cowboys Bad Play in Seattle Continues

There's no need to sugarcoat anything about the way the Dallas Cowboys played Sunday afternoon on the road against the Seattle Seahawks. Although winless so far this season, the Seahawks thoroughly manhandled the Cowboys in all three phases of the game and continued their domination over America's Team.

I don't know how you're feeling today, but I'm personally still a little heated just thinking about the Dallas Cowboys performance yesterday. On second thought, I'm fed up and you should be too!

Normally, I would be telling all of you to remain patient because it's still early in the season. But, I'm finding it really difficult to find any optimism in the way the Cowboys have played through the first three weeks of the 2018 season. That's difficult for me to admit because I'm typically a glass half-full kind of person, but not today.

Today, my glass isn't even half empty. It's completely dry. Not even a drop of moisture remains. I'm that fed up and it's way past time for some serious changes to be made!

Accountability has obviously been thrown out the window. When is Owner/General Manager Jerry Jones going to hold Head Coach Jason Garrett accountable for the poor coaching? When is Jason Garrett going to hold his players accountable for stupid mental mistakes? When are the players going to hold their teammates accountable?

Michael Gallup, Earl Thomas

Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup

Quarterback Dak Prescott and the Cowboys passing game continues to hurt offensive productivity. Pinpointing the problem seems to be an issue. No one really knows if the blame should be placed on Prescott or his receivers, but it's probably a combination of both. The sad thing is, there really isn't any glimmer of hope to build on.

With the struggles in the passing game, Ezekiel Elliott is finding it really difficult to find any running room. Opposing defenses will continue to stack the box against him. He was able to put up 100+ rushing yards on the Seahawks yesterday, but the Cowboys aren't going to win games if he's the only one showing any kind of production.

The Dallas Cowboys defense has been a bright spot so far this season, but they didn't perform up to their best against the Seahawks either. The secondary unfortunately had a few blown coverages and it resulted in some easy touchdowns. It was truly unfortunate, because I believed Kris Richard was the difference maker. I was obviously mistaken.

Like I said, it's time for a change. The Dallas Cowboys can't continue to play the way they did against the Seattle Seahawks for the remainder of the season. If things continue as they are, they'd be lucky to finish 8-8. But, being just average seems to be acceptable for this organization anyways.

Unfortunately, I just don't think we will see much change. If we don't begin to see quite a bit of improvement before the Cowboys bye week, I'm personally going to start a petition to fire Jason Garrett and I'll throw in Scott Linehan as well. Who's with me!?

How fed up are you with the Dallas Cowboys performance this season?

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Game Notes

SEA 24, DAL 13: Cowboys Offensive Woes Continue

Jess Haynie



Ezekiel Elliott, Connor Williams, Seahawks
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Inefficient passing and turnovers cost the Dallas Cowboys today, leading to a 24-13 loss to the previously winless Seahawks in Seattle.

Dallas's offense produced just a single field goal by halftime, with Dak Prescott only completing two of his first nine passes for just four yards. He got better as the game went on, but still finished with just 168 passing yards and a single touchdown.

The box score will say Prescott threw two interceptions, but one was a bobbled catch by Michael Gallup. The other was not a good throw, trying to find Blake Jarwin in traffic. Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner went up and caused a tipped ball.

Both picks ended up in the hands, and ankle, of Seattle safety Earl Thomas. He drew a taunting penalty for bowing at the Dallas sideline on his second INT, almost as if mocking the team for not giving up enough to trade for him.

Ezekiel Elliott did have a big day on the ground; 127 yards on just 16 carries. It's his first 100-yard game of 2018. But the fact Dallas couldn't capitalize on Zeke's production was just further indication of their offensive dysfunction.

Hurry home, Travis Frederick. Who knew you were our Offensive MVP?

Other Notes

  • While Zeke did have a strong rushing performance, two critical errors were big parts of the Cowboys' loss. An early TD catch was called back because Zeke stepped out of bounds before making the reception. Also, Elliott's fumble in the 4th quarter squandered a strong drive that could have started Dallas' comeback attempt sooner.
  • Dallas' defense looked good early but clearly wore down over time. Seattle RB Chris Carson ground out 102 rushing yards on 32 carries. Russell Wilson took advantage of some miscues in the secondary for two touchdown passes and 192 passing yards.
  • Tyrone Crawford got called for another bogus "roughing the passer" penalty after a clean hit on Wilson early in the game. The NFL has to get this figured out, because it's becoming a bigger eyesore for the league than any amount of kneeling ever did.
  • Tavon Austin got his second touchdown catch this year, the only Cowboy to record a receiving TD so far this year. Tight end Geoff Swaim had five catches for 47 yards, reminding the world that Dallas actually has TEs on their roster.
  • Speaking of which, as Troy Aikman commented on during the game, Rico Gathers was not used in redzone passing situations. Why is Gathers dressing for games and not being utilized in the one situation where he's not a liability?
  • Sean Lee left the game after reaggravating the hamstring injury he suffered last week. It meant more playing time for first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch, who reminded you of Lee with how he was getting to the ball. Both finished the game credited with 11 tackles each.
  • Rookie guard Connor Williams continues to struggle when up against powerful defensive tackles. It's not a surprise for a converted college tackle, but growing pains still cost you on game day. Dallas may have to consider starting Joe Looney at guard once Travis Frederick comes back.
  • Kicker Brett Maher went 2/2 today on field goals, including a 50-yarder. He has hit four straight after missing his one attempt against Carolina in Week 1.
  • The rest of the NFC East won their games today. That puts Philly and Washington at 2-1 and now evens up the Cowboys and Giants at 1-2.
  • Dallas returns home next week to host the Detroit Lions, who are currently 0-2. They play the Patriots tonight.

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Game Notes

Why The Seahawks Will Be Looking Into A Mirror Against The Cowboys Sunday

Kevin Brady



Sean's Scout: Starting Front 7 Sets Tone Early, Cowboys Depth Falters in Loss to Bengals 1
AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth

For the better part of the last decade one defense has reigned supreme over the NFC. One defense has continually put their offense and team in position to win big games, including a dominant Super Bowl win over one of the more productive offenses in recent memory.

That defense, of course, belonged to the Seattle Seahawks.

With a secondary deemed as the "Legion of Boom" and a defensive line which rotated through Pro Bowl level talent routinely, the Seahawks bolstered one of the best defenses the NFL has ever seen. A defense which perfectly complimented the physical, run first philosophy their offense lived by.

Players like Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett, and Bobby Wagner will arguably be Hall of Famers one day, and they wreaked havoc on the conference for a strong 3-5 year stretch.

Now, however, things are changing.

Gone are many of the elite players which once bolstered the Seattle defense to top-tier status, and while some big names remain, the talent level simply isn't the same. The Seahawks missed the postseason a year ago, and now sit at 0-2 before their home opener today against the Cowboys.

Their window looks to be closed, while their opponent today is looking to build their defense (and team) in the mold of what once was in Seattle.

Former Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard has come to Dallas and brought with him a more aggressive defensive philosophy, one which he deployed successfully with the Seahawks. Under Richard the Cowboys are blitzing more often on third down than they have in the past under Rod Marinelli, they're utilizing more single high safety looks, and they are allowing their long and talented corners to do what they do best in coverage.

The Seahawks once leaned on a deep pass rush and long, physical secondary. The 2018 Cowboys are looking to do the same thing.

The Seahawks once leaned on a mobile quarterback to make plays with his feet while relying on a strong running game and one of the league's best backs. The 2018 Cowboys are looking to do the same thing.

Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie look like they were molded in a 2013-Seahawks lab as cornerbacks, and DeMarcus Lawrence is as productive as any pass rusher those defenses had. Of course, we aren't able to say the Cowboys have the consistent front four depth that those Seattle teams did or that they have the single high safety of Earl Thomas' caliber, but the preliminary pieces are clearly in place.

Today the Cowboys look to improve to 2-1 with a conference road win. But, they also look to bury the Seahawks in the past and take another step towards cementing themselves as one of the elite defenses in the NFC.

It won't happen over night, but anyone can see that the potential is there.

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