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Cowboys Linebacker Sean Lee Leads From The Front

This General does much more than sit back and direct the battle.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Lee has warmly come to be regarded as "the General" by BTB posters and rightly so. He is often praised for his knowledge of the game and can clearly be seen directing traffic for the Dallas Cowboys defense. But, as is often the case with football players, there is a tendency to categorize. People write about players as "smart" or "athletic" and rarely talk about the other aspect. Byron Jones, for example, is often spoken of regarding his glowing SPARQ numbers and 3-sigma athleticism. Rarely do people mention how assignment-sound his play is nor the maturity of his understanding of the very difficult position of NFL free safety. Likewise, the athleticism of Sean Lee is often ignored in the effusive (and deserved) praise of his football acumen.

Throughout the Giants’ game, Lee demonstrated both his intelligence and athleticism to a high degree, setting a franchise record for tackles. Perhaps more importantly, many of those tackles were at or behind the line of scrimmage. Here is a small sampling.

Play 1

Our first play is an old Cowboys standard. Dallas used to run this with Emmitt Smith back in the day. Rashad Jennings is going to come to Eli Manning and take the hand off, then counter back the other way as the line blocks down to the defensive right. Marshall Newhouse is going to pull from the left guard position to lead Jennings through the hole. Dallas is in nickel with Lee lined up to the play side.

You can see that this play is extremely well blocked. If the Giants had an ideal image of what the play should look like at this point in time, this would be it. Lee has read the play and is moving to try to contain, but Newhouse is barreling down with a 70 lb weight advantage and there’s no one else in the picture to clean up the mess.

Here we see Newhouse squaring up. There’s still no one else in the picture to stop this run. Anthony Hitchens is finally reacting to the play, but he is behind the RB and not going to get there in time. It looks like a huge gain. But notice Lee’s weight shift here.

Lee explodes to the inside of Newhouse who doesn’t lay a finger on him and wraps up Jennings for a loss. This would not be the last time the Giants would underestimate Lee’s quickness.

Play 2

The Giants have just motioned tight end Will Tye in tight and Lee, who was split out with him, follows. This seems to indicate Lee is in man coverage on Tye.

But being in tight, Lee instead drops into a short zone. I don’t know whether this is a dictated technique or a play call. Regardless, Lee shows his intelligence here. He knows Tye is past him and it’s now Anthony Hitchens’ job to drive on a ball thrown to Tye. Lee is now watching for running back Paul Perkins to leak out of the backfield, which he does.

Perkins is both fast and nimble. I actually wanted Dallas to draft the nephew of Dallas great Don Perkins instead of Elliott. Perkins has not had the impact on the Giants run game that I feared he would, but I still think he would’ve been a fine back, here. As the ball comes out, Lee explodes to the outside rather than upfield.

Nonetheless, Perkins gets the edge on Lee and this looks like a big play. Lee’s angle looks all kinds of funky here.

But it was the right one. Perkins underestimates the speed of the Dallas linebacker and cuts upfield a step too soon. Lee is on him like a wild cat and Perkins has to head back outside. He ends up with no gain.

Play 3

For this next play, file under "we’ve seen this before." This time it’s a straight power run to the right side and they pull Ereck Flowers to lead the play.

Tyrone Crawford plays contain. Once again the play is well blocked and once again the pulling lineman is rushing to do damage at the point of attack. Sean Lee is moving towards the hole as if he is the running back— something I continually notice about him. He seems to read the line like a running back and flow to the hole, rather than watching the running back to see what he’s doing. File that under "intelligent".

Once again, a 300+ pound man is squared up in the hole ready to take a run at Sean Lee. Will he have any more success?

I think we know the answer to this one. Once again, Lee deftly dodges inside to wrap up the ball carrier behind the line. File this under "athletic".

Play 4

Lee made several big stops as the clock wound down to get Dallas the ball back, not once, but three times in the final six minutes of the game. Here’s one of them. New York will let David Irving fire off the line and into the backfield, right into the hole. Irving will fall to the ground (we saw this play earlier in my breakdown of Tyrone Crawford in the first game). Flowers and Newhouse both go right by to engage linebackers Lee and Justin Durant respectively.

The right guard, John Jerry, pulls to clean up Irving on the ground and help with Benson Mayowa. Newhouse is watching Durant. Lee is moving to engage Newhouse. Flowers is coming up to trap block Lee.

But Lee is again too fast for him and gets by, right into the hole, to stop the play in its tracks.

The intelligence is there in all of these plays, but Lee’s athleticism at 240 lbs. is what made these plays happen. Please remember, "athletic" and "intelligent" are not mutually exclusive labels when it comes to football. Sean Lee can show you.

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