In the world of sports, there’s an old saying: Defense wins championships: In the case of the Dallas Cowboys, they’ve struggled to put that quote into perspective. It’s been nearly 25 years since the Cowboys have won a Super Bowl. Furthermore, defense has been a big issue for the team since then.
While Dallas has been trying for over 20 years to resurrect Doomsday Defense, they’ve enjoyed short-lived success while at it. However, after last season, there’s signs that they’re getting somewhere. Second in the league in sacks(56) and fourth in forced fumbles(18) truly speaks for itself.
However, Dallas’ eight interceptions and nine fumble recoveries placed them 28th and 14th in the league respectively. On a positive note, finishing 12th in total tackles(1074) adds a sparkle to their defensive success. At this point, Dallas’ defense is considered average.
Currently, there’s two players on the Cowboys defense that many are very fond of; Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith.
What do we know about these two?
Jaylon Smith: Playing in his final College Football game, Smith’s life changed. He suffered a gruesome knee injury that included nerve damage. In addition, he was told that he might never play again. Regardless, the Cowboys gambled on him in the 2016 NFL Draft, and patiently waited as Smith recovered and rebuilt. The patience has paid off.
Since making his debut in 2017, Smith has played in every game. His first season wasn’t the brightest due to him still rebuilding and getting comfortable on the gridiron. However, it was simply part of his rebuild process. He needed to learn and see where he needed to improve. Suffering no ill effects, the former Notre Dame star now looks better than ever. He’s coming off a tremendous 2018 season and his efforts made him PFF’s Breakout Player of the Year.
Smith himself believes that the Cowboys have found their identity. Furthermore, he considers himself a born leader. The Cowboys defense requires strong leadership to be successful. Smith’s presence simply adds more strength to both talent and mentality.
Leighton Vander Esch: Vander Esch is a very unique and special talent. Going from playing eight-man football in High School, to being a walk on at Boise State, and being drafted in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft really speaks for itself. Like his counterpart Smith, Vander Esch has overcome odds to get to where he is now.
Starting last season as backup, his opportunity came after Sean Lee suffered an injury. His performance in week 11 against the Philadelphia Eagles earned him NFC Defensive Player of the Week. He soon became the sixth rookie in Dallas Cowboys history to register 100 tackles.
Vander Esch’s 140 tackles led the team. His 140 tackles are the most by a Cowboys rookie and were the third most in the league last season. Furthermore, Vander Esch is the first rookie to lead the Cowboys in tackles.
But what makes them so special?
These two work as a cohesive unit. Both were the leaders in tackles last season for the Cowboys. They both have the ability to break through an opposing offensive line and make big defensive plays.
Vander Esch has the ability to read a quarterback’s eyes and intercept passes. Smith can sack the quarterback and register tackles-for-a-loss. They’re both capable of breaking up passes, too.
Both Smith and Vander Esch were named top 5 linebackers for 2019 for a reason. And that reason is that they both can wreak havoc and make effective defensive plays.
So why are they so important to the Dallas Cowboys?
They’re reliable. They can make things happen on the gridiron. Positive things.