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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.

Packers1

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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.

Rams3

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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.

Packers2

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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.

Falcons2

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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.

Rams1

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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!

What do you think?

Sean Martin

Written by Sean Martin

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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