Well, that game did not go as hoped. Following a week in which the offense started to look like it had something going, the Cowboys went out and did that, resulting in a frustrating 24-13 loss in Seattle.
While the takes of the offense, the play-calling, and Sean Lee’s injuries fly, we are taking a look at how the members of the 2018 Cowboys draft class are performing. We have seen these players have highs and lows over the course of three games. One player looks to be standing out more than the rest of the pack as we prep for the Detroit Lions.
Let’s dive right into this week’s edition of the rookie report.
Leighton Vander Esch
For all of the doom and gloom surrounding the Cowboys three games into the 2018 NFL season, there has been a pleasant surprise over the last two games: the play of first-round rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.
Several, including yours truly, were unsure what to think about the selection of LVE — especially with interesting players at offensive guard and wide receiver still on the board — but the Boise State Broncos product has put together two solid games in a row. First, LVE made seven stops with limited snaps in the week two victory over the Giants.
This past week, Vander Esch saw more playing time — especially with Sean Lee sidelined — and he made the most of it. The 19th overall pick of the draft led the Cowboys with nine solo tackles on Sunday, in addition to tying Lee with 11 total stops. While Vander Esch still has room to improve, his play has been a bright spot — and he earned this week’s Game Ball!
This was Leighton Vander Esch's best play from Sunday. pic.twitter.com/jM9mT8ysa8— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) September 25, 2018
Vander Esch has looked impressive during the past two games, especially when he has been able to showcase his sideline-to-sideline quickness when he tracks down opposing ball carriers. The rookie will have more responsibility on his plate while Lee recovers from injuring his other hamstring against Seattle. Is he up for the challenge? If so, that can only mean big things for this defense.
Leighton Vander Esch's 79.2 season defensive grade is the 14th highest defensive grade among LBs with at least 50 snaps this season. He also has the highest tackling grade among those LBs. #CowboysNation— PFF DAL Cowboys (@PFF_Cowboys) September 25, 2018
Connor Williams took a lot of heat for his struggles in the week one loss defeat against Kawann Short and the Carolina Panthers. The rookie, as expected, struggled to adjust in his first professional game — and it didn’t help that the Panthers feature one of the league’s best fronts.
The Texas Longhorns product rebounded nicely in week two, playing well versus the likes of Damon Harrison and Dalvin Tomlinson. Williams went from having trouble versus Carolina to not giving up a single QB pressure against New York. Those are the things you want to see from your young players.
In week three, mostly everybody had their fair-share of struggles in the Sunday loss. Williams continues to progress as a run blocker, which is great news for this offense. Here, he helps free up Ezekiel Elliott for a nice gain.
Oh look at this. Another pin-and-pull sweep and another explosive gain by #Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott. Beautiful blocks by Zack Martin and Connor Williams, clearing the path for Zeke to sit Earl Thomas down with a stiff arm. pic.twitter.com/YXA6rNIj9e— John Owning (@JohnOwning) September 24, 2018
There was tons of excitement when Michael Gallup hauled in a 30-yard touchdown pass from Dak Prescott in the first preseason game versus the 49ers back in August. Since then, the rookie wideout from Colorado State has yet to make his impact felt in the Cowboys offense.
We can fairly assume some of the problems revolve around Gallup being a rookie making rookie mistakes. There was that deep pass he dropped versus the Giants that would not have been an easy grab, but one that you need to make. Through two weeks, Gallup had only recorded two catches for 14 yards — in addition to drawing some PI penalties in week one.
Dak looked for his rookie target early in week three — and they connected; however, what happened next was a combination of a rookie mistake and a great play from the Seahawks defense and some guy by the name of Earl Thomas.
That went down in the box-score as an interception on Dak, but it was really more of a fumble by the rookie as he had the ball popped out from behind and it landed against Thomas’ leg.
Gallup did have a 17-yard reception in the loss and he does have promise. We’ll see if the rook can get things going in the right direction as the season progresses.
The Cowboys have questions on the offensive side of the ball, but the defensive end position is where there are tons of playmakers. DeMarcus Lawrence has led the charge, but he is not alone as Taco Charlton looked good in the first two weeks and Tyrone Crawford is one of the veterans of the group.
Randy Gregory was also hoped to make an impact, but — so far — that has not happened yet, partially due to missing week two with a concussion. Elsewhere on the defensive line, 6-foot-3, 258-pound Dorance Armstrong is looking to make his presence felt.
The Kansas Jayhawks product recorded two tackles in week one and was able to cause disruption in week two. Armstrong did not show up in the box score in week three, but look for him to continue playing his role in a deep defensive end unit.