Though the Cowboys haven't had such a great season, their defense has started to play very well and are climbing the statistical charts. At 4-8, Dallas still has a shot to make the postseason with how terribly the other three teams in their division are playing. If they are going to do so, they'll need to count on their defense in these final four games. There are probably no better players to lead the charge than Rolando McClain and Sean Lee.
In all the offseason shuffle that took place trying to tinker with this defense, none may have been more exciting than the idea of Rolando McClain at the Mike and Sean Lee at the Will. Both positions have always been of the utmost importance to defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, and he's finally got the tandem to make it work. As the Cowboys prepare for the Green Bay Packers and perhaps the best quarterback in the NFL in Aaron Rodgers, these two will have their hands full come Sunday afternoon.
This defense is still marred with certain deficiencies such as not being able to create a turnover to save their lives, but somehow they are still ranked 5th overall. Where the Cowboys really excel is limiting the yards gained by opposing offenses averaging a total 326.5 yard per game (6th in NFL). They've also done a really solid job at limiting opposing passing games to 222 yards per game (5th in NFL). With the league's best passer on the menu, that bodes well for the defense if they can keep Green Bay in check. The Packers aren't playing all-worldly on offense this season either, bringing in their 22nd ranked offense into to Lambeau this weekend. The Packers have only lost two games at home this season. For the Cowboys to get a victory, everything will need to be kept close to the vest. That's where the play of Lee and McClain becomes imperative to their success this Sunday.
Sean Lee is coming off perhaps his best performance of the year against Washington. A game where he recorded 13 solo tackles, two for a loss and a sack. Too many times in his career, we've seen his body fail him and this season he's already had two concussions. However, Lee spoke to the media on his style of play and how some things are just unavoidable:
"There are certain things you just aren’t going to be able to avoid," Lee said earlier this month. "You have to tackle the right way and with the right form. If you try to play a different way, it’ll probably lead to more injuries. Obviously, there are risks playing this game, but you have to let it go and play."
PFF currently ranks Sean Lee as the third best outside linebacker in the league. Per NFL statistics, Lee already has near 100 tackles on the year, two sacks, and an interception. His ability to run sideline-to-sideline paired with his impeccable instincts make him a premier player in this league. Lee can dominate a game and when he gets equal effort from his counterpart Rolando McClain, you can just forget about winning that matchup.
Speaking of RoMac, he struggled during the early part of the season after having a dominating performance of his own in his debut against the Patriots. Yet, in the past four games, McClain has really stepped up his game according to PFF, where he's received positive grades in each game for a total of +7.4. It's the exact opposite of last season, where McClain's play fell off toward the end and injuries kept him out of action for three games. If he can keep up his level of play, the Cowboys could possibly consider rewarding him long term.
Going into Lambeau Field without Tony Romo and what has been a pretty stagnant offense, the Cowboys will need another stellar defensive performance to have any chance at winning. Sean Lee seems to think that the defense is turning a corner and understand that the onus is on them these last four games:
"It’s finding a way to get around the ball more and getting hits on the ball and if you do that you’ll get turnovers," Lee said. "We have a standard defensively that we want to live by. We want to play a certain way no matter the situation because that’s what’s going to lead to wins."
The Packers have really struggled against good defensive play and have lost four out of the last six contests. If the Cowboys can continue to get good play out of their defense, they may be able to stifle the Green Bay attack. It will start with stopping the run because the last thing the Cowboys want is for Eddie Lacy to get going. Their four losses have come to defenses that have made it hard to run the ball. Denver (1st), Carolina (3rd), Chicago (12th) and Detroit (17th) have all found similar success in beating the Packers. Now the fifth-ranked Cowboys come to town with hopes of doing the same.
It will be a tall task for the Cowboys but if the defense that played Monday night shows up, there is no reason they can't escape the cold with a 17-14 win and keep alive in the NFC East. It's been one of the tougher years to be a Cowboys' fan, hope is all we got left. If these linebackers keep rocking and rolling, they may be able to lead the team and finish the year on a high note. After all, in 541 snaps together on the field, Lee and McClain have yet to give up a single touchdown in coverage. That's a pretty damn good linebacking tandem if you ask me.