Dallas Cowboys: Splitting the snaps at linebacker with Sean Lee

Sean Lee #50 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Sean Lee #50 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

Whether Sean Lee returns this week or next, it’s imperative the Dallas Cowboys reintegrate him into the defense carefully

Much has been made of Jerry Jones’ recent comments dubbing Sean Lee a starter once he returns from injury. It’s understandable. While Lee’s been out eight of the past ten games, rookie first rounder, Leighton Vander Esch, has been dominating in his place.

As his replacement, LVE has collected a team leading 108 tackles (which is sixth in the entire NFL) and he’s bullied his way into the discussion for Defensive Rookie of the Year.  Additionally, the Dallas Cowboys are 7-1 in games LVE starts at WILL and only 1-4 with Lee in that spot.

Since “not messing with a good thing” is what let then-rookie, Dak Prescott, retain his job over proven Pro Bowler, Tony Romo, back in 2016, it’s interesting to see Jerry take the stance that he is. It’s that very philosophy that somehow is letting Xavier Su’a-Filo keep his job in the starting lineup despite previous starter Connor Williams’ clean bill of health.

But this isn’t either of those situations for one major reason – Sean Lee plays in a corps that can rotate.

The quarterback position and the left guard position are singular positions and not traditionally rotational. Linebacker fields 2-3 at a time much of the game and since there’s overlap in their duties, they have the ability to switch jobs (MLB, WLB, SLB) throughout the game. That’s why comparing Lee’s situation to Romo’s or even Williams’ is comparing apples to oranges.

Van Jaylon

As discussed on Friday, Van Jaylon are fast become rock stars in the NFL. The LVE Jaylon Smith duo is already the best in the league and appear to be getting better by the day. But linebacker can be a brutal position and keeping each of them fresh down the stretch is critical to any dreams of postseason success.

The hits add up, even for guys this big, and both are in the midst of their biggest workloads of their respective careers. Relief couldn’t come at a better time and while it will be painful to see either on the sidelines, it’s in the best interest of the club long-term.

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Sean Lee is good

Contrary to some popular belief, Sean Lee is still a good player and an asset on the field. His skills haven’t declined to the point he’s a liability and he’s similarly not responsible for the Dallas Cowboys putrid 1-4 record when he starts at WILL. Lee is the leader and brain of the defense and when healthy he needs to find a way onto the field.

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How does Dallas spit the snaps?

We’ll get more into this later, but in a nutshell, there are a variety of ways the Dallas Cowboys can split the snaps amongst the three linebackers. Since Dallas loves their nickel defense and has quite the talent in Anthony Brown as a slot corner, they play without a 3rd LB roughly 75 percent of the time.

Sean Lee’s size and age mean he’s best suited to stay at WILL and can’t simply be plunked into Damien Wilson’s SAM spot. If anyone can play SAM it’s Jaylon, but given Jaylon’s enormous success at MIKE (hasn’t allowed a single passing TD this season), moving him comes at a cost.

Again, we’ll attack this more thoroughly later in the week but I’d like to see Smith slide to SAM when in base 4-3 and be utilized as a pass-rusher/run-blitzer there. He’s been pressuring the QB over 26% of the time he’s sent pass-rushing so he’s one of the most efficient pass rushers on the team.

It just can’t come at the cost of those 2-LB nickel sets where he’s proven to be a brilliant MIKE in Marinelli’s scheme.

Cowboys tempting fate with this disturbing trend. dark. Next

Sean Lee’s return is good news because he keeps wear and tear off of LVE and Jaylon Smith – two LBs playing more snaps than they’ve ever played at any level. If the Dallas Cowboys really do have postseason aspirations, Sean Lee will take snaps from both, keeping all linebackers fresh and playing at their peak through the New Year.

  • Published on 12/11/2018 at 13:00 PM
  • Last updated at 12/11/2018 at 09:04 AM