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Sean’s Scout: How Much Will The Cowboys Miss LB Sean Lee?

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: How Much Will The Cowboys Miss LB Sean Lee?

The Cowboys' week ten loss in Atlanta to the Falcons left plenty in Cowboys Nation with an uneasy feeling, myself included. Playing in the first of what we now know will be six straight games without RB Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys watched as their protection of Dak Prescott took them out of the game offensively as Chaz Green filled in for the injured Tyron Smith.

Green's awful day of work overshadowed just about everything else that went wrong for the now 5-4 Cowboys on the afternoon, set to host the division leading 8-1 Eagles on Sunday night. Sean Lee exited this game in the first quarter, and will not be back on the field this week to help Dallas slow down Carson Wentz and Philadelphia.

Prior to giving up 336 yards to the Falcons without Lee for the majority of it, the Cowboys faced the Rams at Packers at home in weeks four and five. Conceding over 30 points in both losses while allowing over 160 rushing yards in each, the Cowboys have shown nothing defensively that proves they can handle life without their general on the field.

I cut up the film to study why this is the case for Rod Marinelli's unit. Let's take a look at the Dallas Cowboys front seven, sans Sean Lee, in this new edition of Sean's Scout.

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The simple reason the Cowboys fail to hold up defensively without Sean Lee is because of the quality of players they have behind him that get forced into action. Clearly, Jaylon Smith at this point in his career is not ready to be an every down MIKE linebacker in Dallas.

Jaylon's rare flashes this season have come when Lee is playing his usual WILL position alongside him, as Sean's initial read and pursuit of the play allows Smith to seek the ball and finish.

Lined up as the sole LB on the field with Anthony Hitchens here though, the inside drive from Benson Mayowa at RDE forces Hitchens to play the cutback lane on this Aaron Jones touchdown run. Maliek Collins does his job as the 1T DT in drawing a double team, but the right guard makes a better play by climbing to the second level and finishing off an out-of-position Smith.

The lack of instincts, playing speed, and ability to get off blocks at linebacker without Sean Lee is a glaring weakness for the Cowboys right now that stuck out time after time on this tape.

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Damien Wilson is yet another player that has been forced to play out of position without Lee, although he's taken strides as a unique SAM linebacker with some ability to play WILL. Lined up at MIKE on this Todd Gurley gash, both Wilson and Jaylon Smith fail to shoot their gaps with clean technique or readiness to bring down a physical back like Gurley.

The Rams do block this play exceptionally well, but having the likes of Wilson, Smith, and later Kavon Frazier all wiped out of the play is an ominous sign for a Cowboys defense preparing to deal with LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi.

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Going back to the Cowboys loss to the Packers, you'll see Anthony Hitchens look to make the play coming across at SAM here as opposed to playing a cutback lane at WILL. That is Jaylon Smith lined up once again as the only other LB on the field, and as Hitchens gets caught on a block there is nobody but Smith - already lagging behind the play - to stop the speedy Aaron Jones from turning this rush up into the second and third level.

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So much of what the Dallas Cowboys do defensively is rooted in gap integrity across all levels. If players at any point lose their gaps, big plays are going to be there for opposing offenses. In this clip from last week's loss, an over aggressive Jaylon Smith actually runs into Anthony Hitchens - who was looking to take on the block of the tackle and squeeze the run.

In studying these games, it didn't matter if it was Smith, Hitchens, Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, or Kavon Frazier down in the box for Dallas. Sean Lee just means too much as the rallying force for his Cowboys defense, a masterful LB when it comes to fundamentally using his eyes, feet, and hands to constantly put himself in position to make impact plays.

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The Eagles are coming into AT&T Stadium on Sunday night with one of the more efficient offenses in the entire league. As a decision maker, it would be hard to find many quarterbacks executing at a higher level that Carson Wentz right now - as his Eagles have also relied heavily on a deep rotation of RBs getting the job done.

The "glass half full" way to look at the Cowboys loss to the Falcons was that they ideally had to fix only the LT position to get back to competing. Now, they must prepare for the possibility of playing without Tyron Smith once again, in addition to LB Sean Lee.

Failing to win a game on this trying 2017 season without Lee thus far, Rod Marinelli is going to have to put together something pretty special in finding a way to compensate for this loss on a prime time stage.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: How Much Will The Cowboys Miss LB Sean Lee?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, 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 wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Randy Martin

    November 17, 2017 at 9:26 am

    Sean as much of an optimist as I am, I am more of a realist. Past history speaks loudly about what happens when Lee is out and it ain’t pretty. And we saw how exposed we were on the O-Line last week. Unless Marinelli has a completely different look this week that will keep Philly off-balance and unless we can score, unlike last week, I just don’t have a good feeling this week. That being said, this will be a true test of our mettle this week as, in my opinion this is a do-or-die week for us. A win and we are 2 back of Philly, a loss and we are 4 back with no hope of the NFC East, and little to none of the Wild Card. If we lose, I say let’s see more of the young guns and back ups the rest of the season and find out where all our holes (I think we already know) are and plan for next season.

  2. Travis Diggs

    November 17, 2017 at 12:46 pm

    Without Lee this defense reminds me of lost kids in the amusement park who cant find their parents. Everybodys confidence is shot which leaves them bird watching

  3. CountLippy

    November 18, 2017 at 11:36 am

    They are a sub par nfl defense without him, a better than average defense with him.

    Good luck “fixing” that.

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Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith, Former 2nd-Round Pick

Jess Haynie

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Devin Smith

The Dallas Cowboys have reportedly signed Receiver Devin Smith, previously with the New York Jets, to a futures contract. Smith was a 2nd-round pick, 37th overall, in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Before going pro, Devin was a college teammate of current Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, and Noah Brown. They were all members of the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes team that won the National Championship.

Smith's agent, Jason Bernstein, tweeting the following earlier today:

Jason Bernstein on Twitter

Congrats to WR Devin Smith @dsmithosu for signing with the #DallasCowboys! Welcome back. https://t.co/hCMYoE8fEh

Thus far, Smith's NFL career has been marred by injuries. He has suffered two ACL tears in the same knee and only been able to appear in 14 games. He was waived by the Jets last summer and was not with any team last season.

Overall, the 2015 class of receivers has been disappointing. Amari Cooper has been a star and other later-round picks like Tyler Lockett, Stefon Diggs, and Jamison Crowder have been good. But the other big names of the class, such as Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, and DeVante Parker, have not lived up to the hype.

The Cowboys are known for trying to reclaim players who once had high draft status and bad starts to their careers. They are clearly hoping to cash in on Smith's previously perceived potential, which had him projected as a possible first-round talent at one time.

For both Devin and Dallas' sake, we hope it's a success!



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DeMarcus Lawrence Named Top Free Agent Of The 2019 Class

Kevin Brady

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Breaking Down DeMarcus Lawrence's League High 5.5 Sacks Through Week 4

Much has been made about the Dallas Cowboys 2019 free agent class. Dallas has a ton of cap space moving forward, but they are going to "have" to pay many of the key players on their roster over the next two offseasons in order to keep their young core together.

Of course, when you're drafting, that's the goal. To draft so well that when your own players become free agents, you go ahead and pay them to keep them around, rather than overpay on the free agent market for external players.

One of the major pieces the Cowboys will have to retain this offseason is defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. And while Cowboys Nation often thinks of Lawrence as underrated around the league, the NFL has caught onto his importance as he enters free agency this Spring.

ESPN.com ranked their top 10 free agents for 2019, with DeMarcus Lawrence clocking in at number one, over elite players like Jadeveon Clowney and Le'Veon Bell.

ig: josinaanderson on Twitter

ESPN's top 10 free agents for 2019 and what Le'Veon Bell should be looking to command based on previous measures. https://t.co/aJ7H1n001t

DeMarcus Lawrence is going to command big time money, likely even Khalil Mack-type money. But the fact of the matter is that he has earned it. Lawrence has been the heart and soul of the Cowboys defensive line the last two seasons, and the most consistent edge player on the team as well.

Not only has he been an effective pass rusher, but DeMarcus Lawrence also plays with a relentless motor against the run that can sometimes be rare to find in those premier pass rushers. He really is a jack of all trades at defensive end, and should be priority number one for the Cowboys this offseason.

Thankfully, I can't imagine the Cowboys not retaining DeMarcus Lawrence and extending him in the coming months.



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When it Mattered Most, Cowboys Offensive Line Protected Dak Prescott

John Williams

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All-22 Notes: Connor Williams Stands Out in Wild Card Win

Throughout the 2018 NFL season, one of the major story lines surrounding the Dallas Cowboys was how frequently Dak Prescott was taking sacks. It's an area that the Cowboys will have to look at in the offseason to better protect their franchise quarterback moving forward. In the playoffs, however, Dak Prescott and the offensive line were much better at keeping their prized possession upright than they were in the regular season.

In the regular season, Dak Prescott was sacked 56 times for an average of 3.5 times a game. There was only one game where he wasn't sacked at all, way back in week two against the New York Giants. Four times this season, the Cowboys' quarterback was sacked five or more times. The New Orleans Saints got him for a season high seven times.

According to Pro Football Focus, Dak was "kept clean" -- not pressured -- on 63% of his drop backs during the regular season, which ranked 25th in the NFL. When kept clean, Prescott completed 74.1% of his passes, which was good for 5th in the NFL during the regular season. He was under pressure 37% of the time, which was the sixth highest rate in the NFL and his completion percentage dropped to 52.6%, still good for 10th in the NFL. It was better than Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Baker Mayfield.

During the playoffs, Prescott's "kept clean" percentage rose from 63% to 68% and he was only sacked once in each game. The one sack against the Los Angeles Rams probably shouldn't have been called a sack as the referee blew the whistle because Prescott was "in the grasp"...

...of his offensive lineman.

During the playoffs, the Cowboys offensive line kept the pressure off of Prescott at a better rate, allowing him to be pressured on only 31.9% of his drop backs. Meaning he was kept clean at an improved rate from the regular season at 68.1% of his drop backs. This while playing against two teams that are really good at rushing the passer. The Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks both finished in the top half of the league in sacks this season and feature players like Aaron Donald, Jarran Reed, and Frank Clark who all had double-digit sacks.

As we know, pressure rates and sacks aren't all completely on the offensive line. The quarterback, wide receivers, and the play calling all factor in, but the Cowboys are trending in the right direction with their pass protection. A full offseason for Connor Williams in the Dallas Cowboys strength and conditioning program, better health for Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and -- fingers crossed -- Travis Frederick, should all help the offensive line play at a higher level heading into the 2019 season.

It can't be overstated how important it will be to get Travis Frederick back into the fold this season. Joe Looney was good, and that might be overstating it a bit. He was not noticeable on most plays during the season, but getting your All-Pro center back will tremendously help the offense in every facet of the game. Frederick's one of the smarter players in the NFL, who helps everyone on the offense to see the blitzes and calls out the protections. Both his mental and physical ability will be a welcomed site when the Cowboys begin practicing in the offseason.

With another year of growth for the quarterback and for the young pieces along the offensive line, and with a full offseason for Dak Prescott to grow with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Blake Jarwin, the Cowboys should be better next season at keeping the quarterback clean.



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