In the first quarter of the Cowboys-Giants Week 1 matchup with the Giants driving, David Wilson took a pitch to the left. As the play began to develop, it looked like Wilson might have favorable blocking. That was until Sean Lee was able to “fight through the trash,” find a lane to Wilson, and pop him for a forced fumble. Here’s video of Lee as he’s able to side-step teammate Jason Hatcher as well as ex-teammate Martellus Bennett, and then watch the acceleration once he has a free lane to the runner. This is rare athleticism for a linebacker.
The Cowboys shut down the Giants run game Week 1. If you look at the stat sheet, it would appear Ahmad Bradshaw had an “OK” night: 17 carries, 78 yards, 1 TD. However, 33 of those yards came on a draw with the Giants down 2 TDs in the 4th quarter and the Cowboys playing deep coverage. Take away that run, and the Giants were averaging under three yards per carry the rest of the night. Sean Lee was a big part of that. On the night, Lee was credited with 12 total tackles. I’m not sure which ones he actually got credit for, but on the Giants’ 19 rushes with their running backs, I counted 10 times where Lee was at least in on the tackle. He also made 5 tackles on the short passes (quick slants, etc) that the Giants love to hit on for yards after the catch.
After a year in which the Giants were the worst rushing team in the league in 2011, the Giants suddenly have life in the run game. They put 149 rushing yards on the 49ers. They racked up 243 against the Browns. With Ahmad Bradshaw out, they ran for 125 against the Panthers. Those were all wins.
Meanwhile, Sean Lee essentially missed two games last season. He dislocated his wrist in the 1st quarter of the Eagles game, was done for the night, and missed the following week against the Seahawks. To be fair, the Eagles did plenty of damage in that first quarter with Lee in the game, but here were the rushing numbers in those two games:
The Cowboys came into that Eagles game as the #1 rush D in the NFL. By the time Lee returned from his dislocated wrist, not so much.
Dan Connor will be filling in for Lee at ILB. If there’s a strength to Connor’s game, it’s against the run. But he’s not Sean Lee in any facet of the game. It will be interesting to see how the Cowboys utilize their personnel this week. Will they mainly play nickel? And if they play a lot of nickel, who do they take off the field? Will it be Connor, or a defensive lineman? If the Giants can run the ball effectively, they can force Connor to stay on the field and begin to hit those short to intermediate routes where they’re so dangerous. Giants-Cowboys will be our first look at how opposing offenses will attack a Lee-less Cowboys D.