When the Dallas Cowboys’ defense lined up versus the New York Giants last Monday night, they did so without starting linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who’s dealing with a neck injury suffered in week 7. His absence paved the way for Sean Lee’s 12-tackle vintage performance. The veteran known as “The General” made sure to make the best out of his playing time as he led the team in tackles and ran from sideline to sideline looking as good as he always has when healthy. He takes over games.
We hadn’t seen him play that way in a long time and it’s been mostly because of his reduced snap count given that he’s not the team’s starting weak linebacker. Vander Esch’s injury let him prove himself and he definitely did. It’s time for the Cowboys to increase his playing time.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Lee should become the team’s starter. I believe that LVE is the team’s future at the position despite facing some early struggles in 2019. The former Boise State Bronco has a lot of potential to grow into a dominant LB in the NFL. However, the Cowboys should seriously consider letting them distribute more evenly the amount of defensive snaps played at WILL.
As promising as Vander Esch is a sophomore, there’s no denying he hasn’t looked as great as he did last season as a rookie. Health has played a big role in that given that he’s had to miss a bit of playing time. The thing is though, with Lee playing the way he is right now, can you bench him without letting him fight for the job?
One of the main reasons for Lee’s recent success has to be the fact that he hasn’t played as much as in other years when he’s been the starting linebacker. The key to solving this complicated dilemma from the Cowboys should be in letting Lee play more, but not enough to turn him into the starter while taking precaution of any future injuries.
Prior to week 6, Lee had not played over 50% of the defensive snaps in any game. In the first five weeks, he played an average of 30.34% of them. That number has gone up including the last few weeks, but it’s been mainly thanks to Vander Esch’s absence. And the difference has been felt.
I can’t help but wonder what Rod Marinelli’s plan will be going forward. Lee is great, but do you need to continue to be careful with him? The answer is clearly yes. But just how much can you maximize his snap count without damaging the rest of the team?