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Cowboys news: The defense gets the spotlight

Although there are some nuggets about the offense and other things as well.

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NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Any Given Sunday: Cowboys over Jaguars | Rivers McCown, Football Outsiders

The guys over at Football Outsiders tend to think a bit outside the box, and what they saw in the Cowboys win over the Jaguars wasn’t a dominant offensive performance (and the good things they did say about that mostly focused on the run game). They put most of the credit on Dallas taking advantage of a crippled Jacksonville offensive line and Blake Bortles being, well, Blake Bortles.

So let’s recount some facts that are relevant to what produced Bortles’ ugliest start (by the numbers) in a long time:

- Starting left tackle Cam Robinson tore his ACL in the middle of the win over New England.

- Backup left tackle Josh Wells incurred a groin injury and was placed on IR after last week’s loss to Kansas City. This puts third-stringer Josh Walker, a 27-year-old UDFA with zero career starts on four career teams, into the starting lineup.

- Marqise Lee is out for the season. Leonard Fournette is expected to be out through their bye in Week 9. Corey Grant, who keyed the win in New England with some big third-down plays, is out for the season.


- The Dallas Cowboys have a good pass rush. Per Sports Info Solutions, they had hurried the quarterback on 37.6 percent of their pass drops, the second-highest rate in the NFL.

- The Cowboys added David Irving and Maliek Collins back to the defensive line rotation, two talented players who had missed most of the season to this point.

If I have foreshadowed this correctly, you should understand that Bortles was sacked three times in just 29 dropbacks, and was pressured many more times en route to taking seven quarterback hits. The Cowboys upped their seasonal rate of pressures to 38.1 percent. Per SIS, six different Cowboys had a hurry, and four of them had 1.5 or more, led by Demarcus Lawrence’s 3.5.

The Marinelli Report, Week 6: How the Cowboys defense made easy work of the Jaguars – Bob Sturm, The Athletic

The offense did get most of the headlines after the Jaguars game, but here is some much-deserved praise for the defense - and not just for one game.

It is getting more and more difficult to find the weaknesses on this unit. The Cowboys’ defensive line looks athletic and deep, their linebackers did not collapse without Sean Lee, and the corner position seems to have enough depth that Jourdan Lewis can be the fourth-best corner, then enter the game and play well.

In other words, there is every reason to believe that this defense belongs within the groups that can get a stop when they need it. The rankings verify that idea, too. Yes, their interception rate needs to rise and being 20th in third-down defense is not going to scare anyone. Otherwise, in nearly every defensive category, this team’s ranking has a single digit.

Dallas Cowboys: Vander Esch and Smith excelling with Lee out | Stefan Stevenson, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

One of the most important developments of 2018 for the Cowboys has been the way the team anticipated and handled injury concerns with Sean Lee by drafting Leighton Vander Esch to pair with Jaylon Smith. But Lee is still having an impact.

Along with Jaylon Smith’s emergence as a fully healthy middle linebacker, Vander Esch has helped not only provide stable depth but two potential star players.

“He’s one of those guys that you’re privileged to coach, the approach he takes every day, the positive impact he has on his teammates, just how he goes about it,” Cowboys’ coach Jason Garrett said.

Both linebackers are always quick to credit Lee for his help from the sideline and voice their deep respect for Lee’s leadership but they also know they are the future of the Dallas’ defense. And when Vander Esch isn’t praising Lee’s help, he’s heaping it on Smith, who shares the team lead in tackles and has five quarterback hits. Smith, who is in his second season as a starter after missing his 2016 rookie season because of surgery, is rated the 10th best linebacker through six games by Pro Football Focus. Vander Esch is currently No. 2 with an 86.4 rating.

INSIDER: Have LVE and Jaylon Smith made Sean Lee disposable? - Patrik (no C) Walker, 247 Sports

Just sit back like you are at Whataburger and enjoy the deliciousness.

It feels like only yesterday when the organization was raked over the coals for choosing linebacker Leighton Vander Esch with the 19th-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, many wanting the Cowboys to select a wide receiver like Calvin Ridley instead. Feeling at the time that they were set to go at wideout, having signed both Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson to deals, they chose to fill a less-publicized but equally grievous need at the LB position instead. For while they would be without Dez Bryant going forward, they had already lost Anthony Hitchens to free agency and the injury bug on Sean Lee had again appeared in 2017.

Lee would miss a total of five games, and the team went 1-4 in his absence.

That means they essentially had two voids to fill for 2019 and beyond, and with one pick, Vander Esch providing both a replacement for Hitchens and insurance for Lee. Flash forward to Oct. 17 and Lee has now missed three of the first six games, predictably thrusting the rookie into the starting role and the corresponding limelight.

The Cowboys are 2-1 without Lee on the field in 2018.

All Vander Esch has done so far is tie with Jaylon Smith for a team high tackle tally, racking up 50 overall (41 of them being solo), and in only three starts plus initial rotational duty. Smith is on fire himself, playing at an All-Pro level -- for perspective -- having fewer solo takedowns (31) but four tackles for loss that include three sacks, making him a weapon in both blitz and coverage packages. The naysayers on the Vander Esch pick are now put out to pasture, and Smith is no stranger to such himself, having been routinely labeled an egregious choice as a 34th-overall pick.

Sean Lee returns to practice after passing $10M in lost man-hours mark - K.D. Drummond, Cowboys Wire

There is a lot of discussion about how valuable Sean Lee is to the Cowboys when he’s on the field. But this adds an interesting perspective on just what he has cost.

This past Sunday was Lee’s third missed game of the year and the 45th of his nine-year career. All due to injuries, he has now missed more than one-third the total amount of games he’s been eligible for (89 games played of 134). Week 6’s absence brought the total amount of money the Cowboys have spent on Lee in missed games over the $10 million mark.

Progress For Sean Lee; 2nd Opinion For Tavon - Rob Phillips,

While Vander Esch and Smith have been doing a superb job holding down the fort, it would still be a good thing to have Lee back. And that is getting closer.

Linebacker Sean Lee is expected to practice for the first time since injuring his hamstring Sept. 23 against the Seahawks, per Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. “He will be limited at the outset, but hopefully he handles the work and gets a good practice in,” Garrett said. Lee was on the field during the option [sic] portion of Wednesday’s practice. The Cowboys will evaluate his work during the week before determining his status for Sunday’s road matchup at Washington.

OK, on to some non-defense things.

Cole Beasley: 5 Thoughts on Rejuvenated Offense - Kristi Scales, 5 Points Blue

Cole Beasley talked about his monster day against the Jaguars. This response is intriguing, because it contains an important aspect for the offense going forward - capitalizing on matchups.

Q: Why did the offense and the receiving corps in particular have their best performance of the season against a Jaguars’ defense that entered the game as the NFL’s #1 Total Defense and #1 Passing Defense?

BEASLEY: “We matched up well and we took advantage of how they were playing guys, especially me. They moved me in different spots and put me in a lot of places on the field that helped me get on a lot of different guys. I don’t feel like they could really get a rhythm on covering me like that. “Even though they were the #1 rated defense, we still saw on film that there were plays to be made and we actually said it earlier in the week. We said, ‘We can beat these guys, but we can also blow them out if we execute the way we know we can’ just by the way they played. They played a lot of man. We have some guys who can defeat man coverage and get open. So, it worked out for us.”

Jason Garrett Doesn’t Rule Out Injured Reserve For Tavon Austin | 105.3 The Fan staff

While he has had limited plays on the field, Tavon Austin has had an impact at times. Now Dallas may have to figure out how to go on without him.

The Cowboys may be without wide receiver Tavon Austin when they head to the Nation’s Capital this week. Austin left Sunday’s win over the Jacksonville Jaguars with a groin injury. He played only 18 on 73 snaps, and made only one catch for 5 yards.

Dallas Cowboys: Why Cowboys should do whatever it takes (within reason) to acquire WR Amari Cooper from Raiders | John Owning, SportsDay

The recent reports that Jon “The Demolition Man” Gruden wants to deal Amari Cooper has, of course, led to lots of discussion as to why the Cowboys should acquire him. But in this case, there are actually some good reasons, including that he may be the kind of receiver the team wanted to replace one departed player all along.

However, if the Cowboys were able to add Cooper to the mix, it would immediately improve their receiver corps from one of the worst in the NFL to an above-average unit capable of being effective week in and week out. With Cooper in the fold, the Cowboys would finally have a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver who can dictate coverage and create his own opportunities in the passing game.

Cooper isn’t a No. 1 of the same ilk as Dez Bryant, who was dominant in contested-catch situations and didn’t need to generate much separation as a result. Cooper, who was actually below average in contested-catch situations, is the type of primary receiver who excels at separating from defensive backs with impressive route-running ability.

Flip Side: Washington’s Most Underrated Player? - Bryan Broaddus,

When they line up against Washington this week, one player the Cowboys have to worry about is a real blast from the past.

Weapon: RB Adrian Peterson

When rookie Derrius Guice tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee my first thought was: there goes the Redskins’ rushing game. Guice was a first-round talent that, for some unexplained reason, wasn’t selected until late in the second. I knew what Guice could bring, having followed his career while at LSU. His burst and upper body power was on display weekly against some of the best defenses in college football. This was going to be a huge loss for a team that was looking for a back to consistently carry the workload.

The Redskins went in a surprising direction by signing Adrian Peterson to replace Guice. He was a shell of himself while carrying the ball at Arizona and New Orleans last season. Now at 33 years old, I thought I had seen the end of a Hall of Fame career -- but that’s not the case. Jay Gruden has hung his hat on Peterson and he’s once again been a difference-maker, averaging 104 yards in the three Redskins victories. Peterson might not have the finishing speed he once did, but he still has the vision and toughness that had made him one of the best backs in this league.

DeMarcus Ware Says Ring Of Honor Induction Is Coming | 105.3 The Fan staff

During an interview on the San and RJ Show, DeMarcus Ware was asked about a future induction to the Ring of Honor. And he dropped this info.

Ware was then asked if he knew when it would happen and he confirmed he did but didn’t want to spoil the details.

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