The Dallas Cowboys linebacking corps has looked better than anyone thought.
When the Dallas Cowboys left the Rams game, it looked like they might be in the market for one or possibly two linebackers. With Sean Lee on injured reserve and Leighton Vander Esch now injured, that left Jaylon Smith, Joe Thomas, and a bunch of unknowns.
However, after the Falcons game, it looked like the linebackers were better than everyone thought. It helps the Cowboys are employing more two linebacker sets, but the fill-ins did a really good job. We get into them today…
The Cowboys have been a 4-3 team for several years, so we knew the 3-4/4-3 hybrid approach was going to take some time. Because of the switch, however, the Cowboys are really employing two linebackers and asking their defensive ends in a 3-4 set-up to do more linebacker duties. When LVE went down, everyone thought linebacker would be a weak spot, instead they played really well.
Starting with the incumbent starter, Jaylon Smith: The worry was his change of direction and that he takes himself out of too many plays trying to do too much. What we saw against the Falcons was Smith covering tight ends and running backs, him coming downhill, and basically him making plays he missed in game one. There is still some concern with Smith’s consistency, but if he can use this game to build upon, he should be fine.
The real surprise was Joe Thomas. During the first quarter I tweeted that Thomas was the best defender on the field for the Cowboys. That stayed true most of the game. Thomas was all over the field, in coverage, coming up on runs, and really just doing everything you could have asked.
Thomas played well enough that if it had not been for Bradlee Anae‘s three plays, he would have been the highest graded defender. Moving forward getting Thomas on the field, even when people come back healthy, will be something the Cowboys will want to try to do.
The depth stepped up for the Cowboys and even a sprinkling of Bradlee Anae at defensive end/linebacker was a pleasant surprise. The Cowboys still need to work on the secondary as at times they seemed out of position, but the linebackers held their own and it was a refreshing sight to see. If the Cowboys can get a pass rush going the front seven could be what we all thought going into the season.
How the Cowboys play their linebackers moving forward will be something to watch. With them using more two linebacker sets and after seeing Thomas holding his own, they could try to get three on more often. Dallas has to adjust for the injuries and to get the best players on the field. Sunday that player was Joe Thomas.