There were many memorable performances from the Dallas Cowboys Wild Card weekend win over the Seattle Seahawks; Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Amari Cooper all had big games for the Cowboys. They are veterans in the NFL at this point in their careers and Dak and Zeke had each been to the playoffs before. While it should come as no surprise, rookie Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch played excellent in the first playoff game of his young career.
According to Pro Football Focus, Vander Esch led the Dallas Cowboys with 10 tackles, eight stops, and had the highest grade for the Cowboys defense that held the Seattle Seahawks offense in check for 58 minutes of that game.
Though he wasn't credited with a pressure, his blitz on Russell Wilson toward the end of the first half led to Wilson throwing the ball a little sooner than Tight End Ed Dickson was ready for it and the ball went over Dickson's head and was incomplete. That play led to a field goal and gave the Dallas Cowboys plenty of time at the end of the half to drive for a score, which they did.
Vander Esch has played excellent all season and continues to prove the Dallas Cowboys decision makers right by making him the 19th overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft. Most people saw Vander Esch as a late first or second round type talent, mostly due to inexperience and a perceived lack of physicality. It's easy to see on a weekly basis though, what the Cowboys brass saw when they made the selection. They saw Leighton Vander Esch as a playmaking linebacker who could stand out in the run game and play excellent pass defense as well. His tackling ability has been spot on and he looks like he's a veteran with the way he flies around the field.
Vander Esch, like many of the players on the Cowboys defense was getting his first experience in the NFL playoffs, and like many of the Dallas Cowboys wasn't phased by the bigger stage.
The Dallas Cowboys defense will get another big challenge this week when they face the Los Angeles Rams and their vaunted offense. Led by Todd Gurley, the Rams are able to run the football and score points, but it's not like the Cowboys haven't seen teams like that. They beat the Seahawks who led the league in rushing. They beat the New Orleans Saints that were sixth in the NFL this season in rushing and first in the NFL in scoring.
Leighton Vander Esch is a big reason the Cowboys defense is playing the way they're playing this season and will be a key reason the Dallas Cowboys ability to advance past the Los Angeles Rams to the NFC Championship. The rookie is playing beyond his years and though he won't receive any hardware for his tremendous 2018 campaign, he's chasing the only hardware that matters; a Lombardi Trophy.