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Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch a Dominant Defensive Duo

John Williams

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The Dallas Cowboys have created the identity they’ve been looking for since 2014 when we first saw them take the run-first approach that led to a playoff berth and first round victory over the Detroit Lions. The problem that season is they didn’t have the defense that the Cowboys have been looking to create since bringing Rod Marinelli on board. 

When Rod Marinelli came over after coordinating the Chicago Bears defenses, the expectation was he’d create a defense that would be capable of taking over football games. Those Bears defenses were led by a couple of dynamic linebackers in Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. 

Well, if you haven’t noticed, this Rod Marinelli defense is being led by two dynamic linebackers. 

Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch.

Before I get started on how great these two have been, this isn’t meant to minimize the efforts by Byron Jones or DeMarcus Lawrence, two players making All-Pro cases this season. What we’re seeing out of Smith and Vander Esch is how having two athletic, physical, fast linebackers can completely transform your defense. 

Their ability to flow sideline to sideline and make plays in the running and passing game has been monumental for the Cowboys defense and you saw it on display on Thursday night. They’ve been solid and spectacular and have completely changed the feel of this defense. 

Jaylon Smith has been a physical presence in the middle, blowing up running plays and sacking the quarterback and cleaning up misses by other members of the team, like when Smith beat Alvin Kamara to the goal line when Byron Jones missed the tackle. 

Leighton Vander Esch looks like he’s been in the league a long time. He’s been the surest tackler on the team. When he gets his claws latched onto a player they almost always go down. 

The two of them haven’t been perfect in pass coverage, but they haven’t allowed a lot of big plays either. And both have shown amazing range in pass defense. Remember when Jaylon was running with Odell Beckham Jr. way down field? I do. That kind of speed and athleticism is rare in a 250 pound linebacker.

And the Cowboys have two of them. 

Pro Football Focus has Leighton Vander Esch ranked as their second best linebacker in the NFL this season. Jaylon Smith is ranked 8th. The Carolina Panthers are the only other team in the NFL with two linebackers graded in the top 10. 

Vander Esch, in his rookie season is leading the NFL in solo tackles with 85. He’s dimension that after sharing snaps with veteran Linebacker Sean Lee and filling in the last several games with Lee out with a Hamstrings injury. Jaylon Smith is in the top 20 as well. Smith is also sixth among linebackers in total pressures (hurries, hits, and sacks) and is tied for fourth in the NFL in sacks among linebackers. 

Leighton Vander Esch is second in the NFL in stops, which is defined by Pro Football Focus as a play that results in a “loss” for the defense. Jaylon is ranked sixth. 

Whether you’re a stats person, into watching All-22, someone who watches for the love of the game, or even a casual fan, one thing is true about Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch:

These guys are going to be wrecking the NFL for years to come. 



Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Stonefoo

    December 3, 2018 at 6:23 am

    “He’s dimension”?

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Report: Free Agent DL David Irving Not in Dallas Cowboys’ 2019 Plans

Jess Haynie

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David Irving

The Dallas Cowboys and troubled Defensive Lineman David Irving appear to be at an impasse. According to a report from David Moore of the Dallas Morning News, the team has "no intention" of trying to re-sign Irving and will allow him to become an unrestricted free agent.

Irving started the 2018 season with a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. He only appeared in two games after that, registering one sack and four tackles.

David Moore on Twitter

Source: Cowboys have no intention of keeping DT David Irving at this time https://t.co/vqMNZty6Aq via @sportsdaydfw

Despite reports of David's ongoing issues with an ankle injury, Dallas never placed him on injured reserve. Then came the reports that Irving was missing practices and team meetings while dealing with personal issues related to the custody of his daughter.

The team stayed pretty mum on the subject of Irving's status throughout the year, falling back on the ankle injury when pushed. But after months, it became clear that either David, the team, or both parties were disinterested in his return to football.

The Cowboys had high hopes after 2017, when Irving posted seven sacks in just eight games. They placed a second-round tender on him last offseason as a restricted free agent and were surely ready to give him a long-term deal if he'd built on that success.

But David's issues, physical or otherwise, have clearly done the opposite.

Dallas is known for working with troubled players, as we've recently seen with Randy Gregory. That they're closing the book on Irving suggests there's an issue with his desire towards football.

It's a sad loss for both. David's potential is enormous, as evidenced by his productivity when he actually does play. But he appears more likely to hit the Commissioner's exempt list in 2019 than the football field, given the reports of multiple failed drug tests over the last year.

Hopefully David Irving can turn things around one day and capitalize on his talent. But if it ever happens, it appears that it won't be with the Dallas Cowboys.



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BREAKING: WR Terrance Williams Gets Dropped by Dallas Cowboys

Jess Haynie

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Takeaway Tuesday: What We Learned From Cowboys Loss To Packers
AP Photo/Ron Jenkins

The Dallas Cowboys have ended their six-year relationship with Wide Receiver Terrance Williams. According to multiple sources, they have declined a team option on Williams' contract and he will now be an unrestricted free agent in 2019.

The move will reportedly save the Cowboys $2.25 million in salary space this year.

Williams was the team's third-round pick in 2013 and started 68 of the 83 games he played in. He developed into a solid number-two receiver by the end of his rookie deal in 2016 and was given a new four-year contract that offseason.

David Moore on Twitter

Terrance Williams career w/ the Cowboys is done. Sources say the club has declined the WR's option for 2019, making him a free agent. The move is no surprise. He caught just 2 passes for 18 yards last season. His departure frees up $2.25 million on the cap.

After another decent year in 2017, things took a bad turn for Terrance last season. It started with an offseason arrest for public intoxication that eventually led to a three-game suspension, although Williams served that while on injured reserve.

The Cowboys already appeared to be giving Williams' spot away when they made several offseason acquisitions at WR; Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, and Tavon Austin all were brought in even before Terrance's arrest.

While Williams did start in two of Dallas' first three games in 2018, he only had three passes his thrown his way. The team finally put him on IR due to ongoing complications with a surgically-repaired foot.

While it didn't end well, Terrance Williams' time in Dallas was ultimately a solid return for a third-round pick. He made a few big plays and was a proficient run-blocker, good enough to start in almost 75% of the team's games since he was drafted.

The Cowboys now hope that another third-round pick, Michael Gallup in 2018, will do bigger and better things.



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A Lot Had to Happen for Amari Cooper to Join the Cowboys

John Williams

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Amari Cooper

Amari Cooper was a game changing player from the moment he showed up at The Star in Frisco, Texas. In the first game against the Tennessee Titans, you could just tell that this was a different kind of player. The Cowboys hadn't had a wide receiver with his mixture of size and skill.

Cooper to me showed off the brilliant route running of Cole Beasley, in a body similar to Dez Bryant. Oh, and with 4.4 speed.

Electric.

But Amari Cooper's presence with the Dallas Cowboys may not have happened in 2018 if any one of a number of dominoes didn't fall during the 2018 offseason and regular season.

Shunned by Sammy

Early in the free agency period, it was reported that the Dallas Cowboys had brought in Sammy Watkins and made him a lucrative offer that would have paid him around $16 million per year, but as Patrik Walker from 247 Sports discussed, he ultimately signed with the Kansas City Chiefs for more guaranteed money.

I recall first the feeling of dread when I heard about the pursuit of Sammy Watkins, immediately followed by relief when I saw that he signed with the Chiefs. I was in the midst of a government mandated internet blackout.

Don't get me wrong, Sammy Watkins is a fine player, but he isn't a $16 million per year player. Aside from his athleticism and size he doesn't really bring much to the table. He was pretty much a younger, and similarly injury prone -- at their respective points in their careers -- as Dez Bryant.

In 2018, Watkins only played in 10 games for the Chiefs and barely passed the 500 yard mark while catching only three touchdowns. Now, he's not the top priority in the Chiefs passing game, but he's not a player that can be relied upon to lead an offense.

Had the Cowboys signed Watkins last offseason, it's highly unlikely that they would have traded a 2019 first round draft pick to add another wide receiver in Amari Cooper.

Dez Bryant Goes Bye-Bye

The next thing that happened that may not have, was the release of long-time Dallas Cowboys Wide Receiver Dez Bryant. Dez Bryant had been with the team since 2010, when the team made him their first round pick that season. After post really good numbers from 2012-2014, Dez had a drop off in production, mostly due to injuries in the 2015-2017 seasons.

Dez Bryant, a fan favorite, was a player that relied upon his superior athletic ability, physicality, toughness, and ability to get passes in the air that made him special. Injuries to his legs and feet started to rob him of his athletic ability. Combine that with the fact that he and Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott could never really get on the same page when it came to fade routes, traditional or of the back shoulder variety.

Had the Cowboys not made the decision to move on from Bryant, the Cowboys offense would have probably been better the first seven games of the season. They may not have necessitated allocating a first round pick to acquire Cooper and it's possible he gets traded somewhere else or stays in Oakland altogether.

Poor Starts to the Season

The Oakland Raiders went into the 2018 season having made a lot of noise by signing Jon Gruden out of the broadcast booth and trading Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears. After a 1-5 start to their season, the fire sale continued as they put Amari Cooper on the trade block.

The Dallas Cowboys started the season 3-4, but looked much worse on offense than what we could have anticipated. We knew they would take a bit of a step back in the passing game as they were trying to work in new faces, but it was bad for the first seven, and really eight weeks of the season.

The Cowboys went into the season with a plan to use their wide receiver group as a committee to try and fill their needs with several players of varying skill sets. Sounds good in theory, but in practice it was a debacle. Receivers not named Cole Beasley, struggled to get open and the offense was listless through the first two months of the season.

Had either team been better than they were to start the season, the chance of a trade taking place would have been small. Teams like to think they can get by with what they have. Had the Cowboys been 4-3 instead of 3-4, they may have thought they could get by with Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley, and Michael Gallup as their lead receivers.

Trade Compensation

It was rumored that prior to the Dallas Cowboys sending their 2019 first round pick to the Oakland Raiders that the Philadelphia Eagles offered a second. The Raiders, who were looking to stock pile picks to rebuild, held out for the first they desired for their former 2x Pro Bowler.

Had the Raiders took the Eagles offer as the best offer on the table at the time, the Cowboys would have missed out on Cooper and likely missed out on the division and the playoffs in 2018. On the flip side, we know how much the Cowboys value their draft picks. We've seen them pass on game changing player who would have cost much less because they value their draft picks and believe in their ability to find difference makers in any round.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The Dallas Cowboys were really fortunate to end up with Amari Cooper. If any of the above things goes differently, it's extremely unlikely that he's wearing a Cowboys uniform in 2018 at all. Now, coming off a 1,000 yard season -- in only 15 games -- and a Pro Bowl appearance, Cooper is set to get paid some big money by the Dallas Cowboys front office. As they get ready to pay Cooper upwards of $16 million a year or more, they should have only one thought on their mind for the good fortune that brought Cooper to Dallas;

Thankfulness. 



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