Next week, we will close the door on the 2015 season for the Dallas Cowboys and with that, this weekly series of looking at the defense of Rod Marinelli. We will evaluate how each player did and consider who should stay for 2016 and who should go. This process will take us a bit, but it is an enjoyable way to pass the long offseason where we don't have Cowboys' football. Even though they have been a tough watch, I greatly prefer even a poor football season over no football season at all. Oh well.
That process will take us through a number of discussions that will generally all slant in the negative direction. It has not been a very good year for the defense and it certainly wasn't that big step forward that hopeful eyes in Oxnard might have imagined. Simply from a standpoint of "winnable" games in the 4th Quarter that were actually secured with help of this defense, there will not be any problem finding negative things to fret about.
Perhaps that is why I want to spend a few minutes on a positive aspect this week. Last Wednesday, I focused on the good news of DeMarcus Lawrence coming into his own. I think that continued in Buffalo to a certain extent, and I am positive that the combination of Tyrone Crawford and Lawrence on that defensive front going forward is an exciting duo to build around and develop (Hello, Randy Gregory).
So, let me try again to kick it positive, because amidst the 4-11 avalanche of bad, there is another very solid development happening down the stretch.
Sean Lee is very good again.
Now, I know that this might be approaching the category of obvious for some, but for others, I think when he was out on his feet a time or two this year, the conversation could be had whether or not Sean Lee was approaching "past tense" and might be a candidate to go do something else with his life for 2016.
But, I am happy to report that - at times - he has been dominant in 2015. Allow me to offer some exhibits from Sunday as he was superb:
Here is Tyron thinking he will turn the corner for 8-10 yards and Lee gets to the top of his drop and then hits the gas. Not sure I would bet on him to win the race to the corner against Tyrod, but he won it with ease. Impressive acceleration in Week 16.
Navigating through traffic has always been something he can do, but the question was whether he could do it enough and whether he could do it on the proper side of the line of scrimmage. Not a problem here.
This one is likely a reminder that you might want to account for #50, as he is wrecking quite a few plays here.
This is my favorite right here. Just look at him take on the tackle, move to the fullback, and then to the ball carrier. Lee even lets you know that this was a beauty with his celebration (or what passes for one with him).
I realize that Lee requires accepting his circumstances and he will never be labeled as durable. But, after missing the Saints game when he left early and being held out of the Tampa Bay game altogether, he has played every snap since Miami - and more importantly - has played at an incredibly high level.
Overall, I am ready to say that the Sean Lee at Will Linebacker storyline of 2015 has turned out about as well as anyone could imagine. And in the last month, he has been an absolute monster.
WEEKLY DATA - WK 15 - BUFFALO
If I may get back to some negativity for just a moment, it should be noted that the team gave up 408 yards to Buffalo. Now, that is not very good, especially 236 on the ground. But, you might be interested to know that was only Buffalo's 6th biggest game this year in terms of yardage. And in terms of rushing yards, they actually ran for more (240) the week before against the Redskins. In other words, the Bills are not bad in 2015, and I actually thought this was going to be a pretty rough day for whatever team the Cowboys brought to play the Bills.
Otherwise, as I wrote on Monday, I am not sure there was much from a Bills standpoint to examine in that they almost never threw the ball because they were convinced that 14-17 points would likely be enough to win. The Cowboys offense was going to have to prove they could score to bring Buffalo out of a conservative posture and we all know that the Dallas offense wasn't going to make that happen.
TYROD TAYLOR THROW CHART
As you can see, it is a pretty easy day to play QB for Buffalo. By the way, I am sure that one yellow dot - the fade interception before halftime - did not encourage them to get too liberal with 2nd half passing.
PASS RUSHERS BY DOWN
The above and below chart showed again that the Cowboys do not wish to blitz in most cases. They decided to break it out a few times this year, but down the stretch have dropped down to about 15% which is even low by their low standards.
And then the chart below shows the Cowboys sacks and interception and whether they were blitzing on any of those. Just the McClain sack that we will look at tomorrow on Xs and Os.
WEEK 15 SPLASH PLAYS
Behold, the big week for Sean Lee!
SEASON TOTAL SPLASHES
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
I figured that a good place to wrap this up today is to look at the season total for individual splash plays and try to put it in perspective. I have kept this statistic since 2011 and the season leaders have looked like this:
2011: DeMarcus Ware 39, Anthony Spencer 29, Sean Lee 25, Jay Ratliff 24
2012: Anthony Spencer 38, DeMarcus Ware 30, Jason Hatcher 16.5, Mo Claiborne 16
2013: George Selvie 28, Jason Hatcher 26, Sean Lee 22.5, Brandon Carr 20.5