Who would've thought, after all we’ve been through over the last two weeks. the Dallas Cowboys would be preparing for an important week three division clash that includes an undefeated New York Giants team, and a Cowboys team led by Cooper Rush that is coming off a much needed week two victory against the reigning AFC champions? As improbable as both of those scenarios sounded a few weeks ago, that is the reality as we head into a week three primetime clash with a hated division foe on Monday Night Football.
There are still many questions to be answered for both teams heading into this one. The league is wondering if the Giants hot start is a mirage, or are the Brian Daboll-led G-men for real? The question for the Cowboys is well documented: can Rush and this offense produce and continue to hold it down until Dak Prescott is back?
Studying the Giants this week shows the one thing that isn't a mystery, and that is what makes this offense go. The engine for their attack is Saquon Barkley. Barkley, through two weeks, is the league's leading rusher and has looked to be healthy and the workhorse back that the Giants have been needing for the last couple years. With Barkley looking so strong out the gate, the plan of attack for defenses is clear - stop the ball and force the game into Daniel Jones hands. In order to get to the second part the Cowboys will need to be successful in the first part. That's where Leighton Vander Esch and company comes into play. LVE has looked strong dating back to the backend of last year and has played well through the start of this season. The Cowboys will need more of that from him as he may need to be the underrated star of week three if the Cowboys are going to leave Met Life Stadium 2-1.
Week 3 underrated star
Leighton Vander Esch
Through the first two games Leighton Vander Esch has tallied 19 total tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss, and a QB hurry. That’s stats have culminated into Vander Esch having a quality 75.1 score according to Pro Football Focus. When healthy, which has admittedly been a problem of his throughout his career, LVE has proven to be a quality piece of this defense, and the idea of him still being able to play at a high level and help this team win games is why the Cowboys re-signed him to a one-year deal at the end of his rookie contract. Vander Esch won’t wow you too often, he’s found a groove and a way to just come out week-to-week and just be consistent, which is all a team can really hope for.
Honestly, its hard to stand out and be the face of a position group that employs guys like Micah Parsons and Anthony Barr anyway, but Vander Esch’s play has been noticed and the spotlight on an underrated star performance opportunity in week three is warranted. LVE has quietly, but surely, been a productive mainstay in the middle of the Cowboys defense for some time now and it looks like early in 2022 the Cowboys have continued to find an impactful role for him.
Micah Parsons pressures quickly, setting up Leighton Vander Esch for the #Cowboys’ sixth sack— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) September 18, 2022
The #Bengals’ revamped offensive line has allowed 6+ sacks in back-to-back weeks pic.twitter.com/w6Gcvzjbjk
Everybody on this defense, including LVE, knows they are in for a challenge on Monday night. This Giants team is surely a confident group heading into this contest undefeated and much of that confidence comes from the fact Barkley is back to being the man for them. The front seven will be a huge part of the Cowboys success in stopping Barkley on the ground. The big men up front are going to have to eat up their blocks, not allow their offensive linemen to get to the second level, and really bring the fight to this pedestrian Giants offensive line. By doing so it will keep LVE and the rest of the linebackers clean and able to play downhill and react to the play developing in front of them quickly. This Giants team has proven the path to success does not come by way of Daniel Jones’ arm.
Leighton Vander Esch (63 snaps) and Anthony Barr (61 snaps) played a strong game on Sunday afternoon. Barr's signing is proving smart by the front office.— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) September 19, 2022
It is simple, make things hard on #26 and you will make things hard for their entire offense. Getting Jones and company behind the chains will force Jones to have to make plays with his arm or even his legs to extend drives. The play style and athleticism of LVE and the rest of the linebackers is a tough matchup for this Giants offense, and they will not be able to do the things they were able to get away with against a weaker Panthers defense. As Monday night unfolds, look for Leighton Vander Esch to play a pivotal role in the outcome of this game, and when it is all said and done, it would not be a surprise to see LVE with 10+ tackles and maybe an interception to boot on his way to week three’s underrated star.