Anchor of Cowboys' defense is Sean Lee
There was a hushed silence in Dallas on Sunday. Not because the Cowboys had surrendered a commanding first half lead as the Falcons put 25 unanswered second half points on the board—though that was alarming in and of itself.
No, the moment that had fans in AT&T Stadium holding their collective breath came with 12 seconds gone of the second half, as LB Sean Lee had to leave the field. For a man who had missed no snaps up to that point in 2015, to see him miss the next 12 caused a feeling of déjà vu in Dallas. After all, Lee had missed all of 2014 on injured reserve, and had missed chunks of time in 2013 and 2012.
So, to see Lee on the sidelines getting treatment for a busted lip was, while not ideal, something of a relief. Not just for Cowboys fans, but for all fans of good football, because Lee is certainly playing a lot of good football right now. The Cowboys linebacker stands alone atop our non-rush linebacker rankings, besting all 4-3 outside and all interior linebackers with his combination of strong work against the run and in coverage.
That’s quite the comeback for a player who, not long ago, many believed would struggle to regain his pre-injury form.
What makes Lee so good is his nose for the ball. It’s not always about beating a blocker when they get their hands on you; it’s about having the instincts to feel where the play is going, and get there before a blocker can. It’s a big part of why no 4-3 outside linebacker has a better stop-percentage against the run than him. On 16.7 percent of run plays he is in, Lee is the guy making a tackle for a defensive win. It’s no wonder the Falcons offense got on a roll once he left the game for two series.
It’s not just in run defense where Lee excels, with the second highest grade in coverage of his peers; and while his pass rush opportunities (10 blitzes) have been limited, he still has turned them into a sack and a hit. It’s been a complete performance whatever is asked of him, a real glimpse at what the Cowboys have missed the past two years.
Indeed, right now there isn’t a more important player on the Cowboys defense, and fortunately, there isn’t a player performing as well. Lee was the only player to earn a grade greater than +1.0 on the Dallas defense against Atlanta, and is comfortably the unit’s top-graded player.
There’s always the worry of injury with Lee, a player who has missed 36 games in his five years in the league. But for now, we can just sit back and enjoy a fine player, playing fine football.