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Position group analysis: Sean Lee & Cowboys linebackers took it to Giants offense

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The Cowboys linebackers had a very good performance in win over New York Giants.

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

[Each week we will look back at the game to focus on a single position group and how they performed. Whether it’s high-praise for the Cowboys biggest contributors to another victory formation, or the scapegoats for any potential losses, we’ll spotlight one personnel grouping for review.]

The Cowboys defense was the story of their 37-18 victory over the New York Giants. When looking for superstars from this outing, look no further than the Cowboys linebacker corps. Sean Lee returned to his old position as “The General” as his teammates filed in behind him.

SEAN LEE - 12 TCKL, 1 TFL, 1 PBU

What we saw on Monday Night Football was a former All-Pro linebacker return to form. There are some players in the NFL that are better on limited action and those that get better when they are asked for more. Sean Lee hasn’t been “The Man” for this defense for a while but he wasn’t given many opportunities since Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch have been the starters. In this game, LVE was out and Sean Lee was asked once again... can you be “The Man”?

As the great, legendary Ric Flair says: “To Be The Man, You Gotta Beat The Man”. Well, nobody was beating Sean Lee on MNF, and especially not the specially-talented Saquon Barkley.

In this next clip, we get “vintage” Sean Lee, with a little help from the pass rush, Lee snuffs out this screen pass, notching a tackle for loss.

The instincts Sean Lee has are unmatched and it was nice to see those on display in a big way, once again. Take a bow, #50, you earned it.

JAYLON SMITH - 12 TCKL, QB HIT, 0.5 SACK

It’s a sign of a good defense when your linebackers are leading the game in tackles. You want your linebackers hitting the holes to make the tackle instead of relying on your secondary to clean up. The Cowboys defensive line deserves a shout out with four of the team’s five sacks on the night. Jaylon Smith had a half-sack himself as he gave a clinic on blitzing:

Smith even gave a birthday nod to former Cowboy, Dez Bryant:

Keep in mind how special a talent Jaylon Smith is for a guy who plays middle linebacker, he has a very impressive skill set.

Another big aspect to Smith’s game as the MIKE are his instincts, these are things that cannot be taught, you either have them or you don’t. Watch Smith read and react to this draw play by New York:

Sean Lee set his partner up perfectly on that play and Jaylon Smith did his job to make the tackle on Saquon Barkley, who isn’t an easy guy to bring down. On another run by Saquon, Smith anticipates Barkley’s rushing path perfectly and makes a huge tackle:

On this next clip, broken down by the great John Owning, watch Smith’s excellent awareness in the red zone:

The Giants went 1-for-5 in the red zone and you can bet the linebackers were a big reason why. Smith does an amazing job of not letting the center wash him out of the hole, then he detaches from the blocker to meet the ball-carrier to prevent the touchdown.

Just a fantastic day of linebacking by Dallas. This is the vision the Cowboys have with Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, and Sean Lee on the depth chart. Despite missing a key cog in the defense with LVE inactive, Sean Lee stepped right in and took care of business. Jaylon Smith wore multiple hats in this game and never allowed Barkely to get going while bringing some pass-rushing pressure. Even backup Joe Thomas came in for 38% of the defensive snaps and made a quality contribution. If the linebackers can keep this up, you might as well call them “The Custodians” because there is no mess they can’t clean up. They held Saquon Barkley to 28 rushing yards on 14 carries, a two-yard per carry average. Though the entire defense gave up a 65-yard screen, the work these linebackers did in the red zone kept points off the boards. Just a stellar performance in prime time.