Leighton Vander Esch pivotal for Dallas Cowboys postseason run

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The entire Dallas Cowboys defense elevates when Leighton Vander Esch is on the field.

Leighton Vander Esch had been flying under the radar for much of the 2022 season. The former first round pick for the Dallas Cowboys had been an afterthought to many this season.

After his breakout rookie campaign in 2018, Vander Esch had fallen back to earth. Injuries sapped his strength, limited reps, and prevented consistency. Despite a strong 2021 comeback season, the Cowboys were noncommittal on the man known as “wolf hunter”

They re-signed the 26-year-old to one-year deal without much fanfare. Dan Quinn’s defense relies heavily on his safeties, he rarely plays more than two ‘backers at a time. It seemed, if Vander Esch can stay healthy and contribute in 2022, great. If not, no worries. 

As it turns out, that sentiment couldn’t be more wrong, as LVE has proven to be the lifeblood of the Cowboys back-seven.

Something I pointed out in December was how much this Dallas Cowboys defense relies on Vander Esch. The falloff after LVE in the linebacker ranks is significant. Jabil Cox never took that step many of us expected him to take this season, Anthony Barr is limited at this point in his career, and Damone Clark is still a little too raw to be trusted.

It’s no wonder why the defense looks completely different when Vander Esch is off the field.

Against Tampa Bay, LVE was everywhere. Even on broken defensive plays, LVE was disrupting passing windows, making plays on balls (very close to two interceptions), and keeping the Bucs on tilt.

LVE is both run-stopper and coverage ‘backer. He’s the best option for both situations which makes him a must-have player on every defensive unit.

Aiding in his efforts is the effectiveness of the big men upfront. LVE is a top-5 LB when the guys in front do their jobs. Getting Johnathan Hankins back at the same time LVE came back was a well timed return.

Leighton Vander Esch is pivotal to the success of the Dallas Cowboys defense. He’s the general of the back-7 and playing the best ball of his career.

Throwback: Don't sleep on Leighton Vander Esch in 2022. dark. Next

The Cowboys are going to need every bit of that in San Francisco.