Kenny Decker

Sean Lee Is Impossible To Replace On Dallas' Defense

Created on Oct. 17, 2013 6:30 AM EST

Sean Lee, the Dallas Cowboys’ starting middle linebacker and defensive play-caller, is one of the most underrated defensive players in the game. His presence is very clear when watching the Cowboys play, because on just about every tackle or defensive play, you will see the No. 50 jersey right in the middle of everything.

But his impact on the team is even deeper than that. Lee missed the final 10 games of the 2012 season due to a toe injury, and the Cowboys certainly felt his absence. He finished fourth on the team in tackles last season despite missing over half the season, and the Cowboys defense had allowed just over 22 points per game with Lee on the field … but then allowed nearly 27 points per game without him.

Even more importantly, Lee is the play-caller on the field, and following his injury last season along with other injuries to the linebacking corps, the play-calling duties were passed amongst the inexperienced group. With Lee back on the field, the Cowboys have realized even more what they were missing.

This offseason Jerry Jones recognized the value of Lee, and he signed him to six-year contract worth $7 million per year with the potential to reach up to $51 million in total. Lee has a keen playmaking ability that the Cowboys want to make sure they keep for as long as possible, and he currently ranks third in the league in tackles through six games with 60 to his name. He has been responsible for a defensive unit that has struggled against the pass, but has shown pretty decent consistency against the run.

The Cowboys are creating turnovers — 12 through six games — including Lee’s pick-six against the Chargers in San Diego. The Cowboys have an offense with probably the second most weapons in the league behind just the Broncos. So as this defense learns and grows within Monte Kiffin’s new defensive system, the most important thing will be just keeping the Cowboys in the game. If through this learning process they can give Tony Romo a chance to win, then Dallas fans will have to deal with giving up big plays from time to time. But following a solid team effort against the Redskins, who gave them all sorts of problems last season, the defense will be tested the next four games, facing the Eagles, Lions, Vikings and Saints — all capable of putting up points.

Lee will have to take control of this defense as he did last week versus Washington, leading the way with 10 tackles. It’s clear what Lee can do as a linebacker, but what is truly underrated is his leadership. He took credit for the loss versus Denver, saying that 51 points is too many to give up even against the Broncos. Taking ownership is vital in a strong leader and Lee will prove to people over these next few weeks what the Cowboys defense is capable of.

Their hands will be full with LeSean McCoy this week — who leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage — but Lee and the defense are up for the challenge. The defensive unit may be battling injuries right now, but they have Lee, and his presence is more important than anyone else.

So tune in this Sunday, and watch No. 50 run all over the field and make plays from sideline to sideline. Watch a Cowboys defense that will only show improvements going forward, and keep an eye on a middle linebacker that will be the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in the near future.

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