Yet another "hot hand" Cowboys depth chart controversy has come up with the pending return of Linebacker Sean Lee. Though it's possible for Lee to coexist with the already dominant pairing of rookie Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, Cowboys Nation has convinced themselves the days of seeing the Wolf Hunter as a starter are numbered.
Jerry Jones' recent comments on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas did little to slow this outrage, but do require more context than provided to fully understand.
Jerry Jones says Sean Lee will get his starting job back when he returns from his hamstring injury. Jones on Lee: "When he's right, there's nobody better.
Jones said Lee will be the Cowboys starting WILL linebacker once he's fully healthy. For a 32-year old linebacker that's never once played 16 games in a season, the merits of being "fully healthy" are worth questioning.
Lee shouldn't be feeling the same urgency to get on the field as quick as possible. For the first time, the Cowboys are competent on defense without him, and that's because of Leighton Vander Esch - who admits he's learned a lot from Lee while sidelined.
There is of course the adage that capable players play, and Lee could be in uniform for the first time since a week nine loss to the Tennessee Titans this Sunday. Whether or not he's healthy enough to play his usual workload will determine how many of Vander Esch's snaps he takes, with the Cowboys more than willing to let LVE carry the game if needed.
In the team's previous win at the Eagles, Vander Esch recorded his first interception on Carson Wentz, leading to a Dallas field goal.
The decision the Cowboys must make about their linebacker depth is a topic I've discussed here more than once already. Prior to the Cowboys win over the Saints, I warned that a substandard game from the defense against the top scoring offense in the league shouldn't influence the decision to cut Vander Esch's snaps too much.
"Vander Esch and Lee have only been on the field together for 19 snaps this season, hardly the Cowboys plan when they locked onto the raw defender out of Boise State early in the draft process. In games where both linebackers are available to play, Vander Esch is averaging 32 snaps a game, well below the 58.8 he averages when primarily handling the WILL LB position in Kris Richard's defense."
All Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith did was combine for 19 tackles and hold the Saints to a season-low ten points. The schedule doesn't get easier for the Cowboys from here, as their four game win streak has set up another must-win match up with the Eagles.
Though the Eagles aren't the same team that handed the Cowboys their worst loss ever at AT&T Stadium a year ago, they are 6-6 with life in the NFC East. Having Sean Lee available to help put an end to a late season run by the defending Super Bowl champions is a great thing for the Cowboys, and a luxury they didn't have in last November's 37-9 loss.
Lee, Vander Esch, and Smith suiting up as the three primary linebackers for the Cowboys is not yet something they've figured out. The time is now for playoff hopeful teams to get healthy and explore any lineup changes. The Cowboys should have total faith in Kris Richard figuring out the best way to deploy all of his linebackers.
If Vander Esch is playing less snaps, it means that Lee is back and playing at a high level. The General will be the first to take himself off the field if he's not up to a usual standard of excellence. Such a standard has been remarkably matched by Vander Esch, to the point where the Cowboys should be praised for their added talent at LB - instead criticized for a decision that hasn't happened yet.
Maliek Collins Playing Excellent for Cowboys Defense
For the Dallas Cowboys on the interior, a lot of the news consistently surround the availability of Defensive Tackle David Irving, but Maliek Collins is playing excellent right now. While I'm willing to be very patient with Irving because of the elite talent he brings, Maliek Collins should continue to start for the Dallas Cowboys at 3-technique defensive tackle.
Collins has been a player that the Cowboys have bounced between the nose tackle and the 3T position with the hopes of getting their best players on the field, and because of the lack of a consistent presence at the 1-technique or nose tackle position. Well, with Antwaun Woods taking control at the 1T, Collins has been able to play at the position where he's at his best. The 3-tech.
He hasn't put huge numbers in the sack column this season, but that doesn't mean he's been absent from being the disruptive player he's been through his first two and a half seasons.
During the Dallas Cowboys five game winning streak, Maliek Collins has led the Dallas Cowboys defensive tackles in total pressures with 13, according to Pro Football Focus. PFF combines sacks, quarterback hits, and hurries into their "pressures." Collins hasn't recorded a sack during the winning streak, but he has four quarterback hits and nine hurries. He's tied with Tyrone Crawford for third in total pressures behind DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory over the last five weeks.
Over the last five weeks, Collins leads the defensive tackles in solo tackles with five and is tied with Crawford and Antwaun Woods with three run stops on defense, according to Pro Football Focus. Collins has also has two tackles for loss in the last five games and recovered Tyrone Crawford's force fumble on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Collins had six sacks in his rookie season when he played primarily as the 3T, which allowed him to see more one-on-one blocks against opposing interior offensive linemen. Especially with the way the rest of the defensive line is playing.
With the Cowboys on the road to face the Indianapolis Colts this week, Collins is going to have a tough matchup with a very good Colts offensive line, in particular, rookie Quentin Nelson. Collins ability to get pressure on Andrew Luck on the interior is a huge key for the Dallas Cowboys this week. We know that Gregory and Lawrence will get their pressures, but if Andrew Luck is able to step up into a clean pocket, it will make for a much more challenging game for the Cowboys secondary.
Collins has proved to be up to any task over the last five weeks and if he's able to keep playing at such a high level, he'll make the Cowboys coaching staff, and the rest of Cowboys Nation forget about using other defensive tackles. For the Cowboys to make a deep push in the playoffs, they'll need Collins to be a big time player for them moving forward.
Amari Cooper Wins 2nd NFC Offensive Player of the Week Award of 2018
For the second time in just three weeks, Dallas Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper has been named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
Cooper scored three touchdowns, including the game winner in overtime, to lead the Cowboys to victory last Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. He has 10 catches for 217 yards, which led all NFL receivers last week.
After his record-setting performance during week 14, @AmariCooper9 is the FIRST #DallasCowboys to win NFC Player of the Week twice in a season! → https://t.co/kvBDIeOgBd #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote
As the official website stated, Cooper is the first Cowboy to win the award twice in the same year. He's also the first Cowboy to be named Offensive Player of the Week since Ezekiel Elliott in 2016.
Before this year, Elliott was the only Dallas player to win the Offensive award in three seasons. Cooper has now done it twice in three weeks.
Since being traded to the Cowboys, Amari Cooper has amassed 40 catches for 642 yards and six touchdowns.
His wasted time in Oakland may keep Cooper out of the Pro Bowl this year, but he's already become a fan favorite in Cowboys Nation. Congratulations to Amari for another well-deserved award!
David Irving Out Again for Cowboys, Does Defense Need Him?
Dallas Cowboys Defensive Tackle David Irving, once a key member of the team's defense, will not make his return after all against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. For the second straight week, Irving was reportedly trending towards suiting up before being ruled out. The Cowboys haven't missed his unique presence for 13 weeks (playing against the Jaguars and Redskins), including through an ongoing four game win streak that began with a win against these Eagles on the road.
In that road win, veteran Tyrone Crawford recorded a sack and three tackles, while Antwaun Woods added two for a Dallas defense that held Philadelphia to 23 first downs and 71 rushing yards. The Eagles managed to cross the Cowboys' 30-yard line just four times.
There are many scenarios in which the Cowboys could have cut ties with Irving for not being worth the off-field trouble he's caused - beginning the season with a four game suspension. The absolute best case scenario is what they've realized amidst this turnaround, with other defensive linemen taking advantage of the opportunity left behind by Irving.
While it can still be true that Irving would make more splash plays than the likes of Crawford, Woods, Maliek Collins, and Caraun Reid, this defensive tackle group deserves praise for their ability to step in. Pass rush ability is one thing teams can't have enough of, and the Cowboys are missing some with Irving, finding ways to win thanks to the other traits these defenders bring to the table.
Cowboys Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard may effectively be the team's defensive coordinator with an emphasis on the back seven, but DC Rod Marinelli's impact is still felt - particularly up front. Regardless of where they're lined up and deployed, the Cowboys front four is expected to be disruptive on every snap, something this scrappy unit excels at.
Prepared once again to play on the edge this season, Crawford is thriving at his original position of 3T-DT. Crawford has two sacks, nine total tackles, and three other hits on the quarterback over the past four weeks. Leading by example with a relentless spirit on every play, Crawford has meant just as much to the Cowboys defensive ends as Irving could.
In a short period of time, the Cowboys have gone from building up Irving thanks to his transcendent ability to make those around him better to simply -- and importantly -- being better across the defense.
Led by DeMarcus Lawrence as their premier rusher, the Cowboys defensive line is a lot for opposing offenses to contain. The "Hot Boyz" work up front has allowed Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch to play fast and make plays all over the field.
Maliek Collins, battling back from his second broken foot in three years, is proving again he's a patented Marinelli guy. Collins' play speaks for itself when considering if the Nebraska product is best as a 3T or 1T tackle. Wherever he's asked to play, Collins creates penetration with an explosive first step and can finish at the quarterback with an array of power rush moves.
At 7-5 and fighting for their playoff lives, the Cowboys are done making excuses on the 2018 season. Their strides on defense speak for themselves, and with a group that keeps Dallas in every game they'll play, the door remains open for David Irving to earn snaps again when ready.
The Cowboys don't know any better than their play without Irving right now, and as winners of four straight, it's worth questioning if we'll see Irving over the last three weeks of the regular season.
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