Some of the thoughts that run through an oversized, bald head:Read
- Since the Week 1 loss to the Giants last season, the Cowboys are 19-2 in games Sean Lee plays at least half the snaps. In those 21 games, they have outscored their opponents by an average of nearly 10 points a game, 27.8-17.9. The only NFL team to outscore their opponents by double-digits the last two years is New England. In the seven games Lee hasn’t played half the snaps, the Cowboys are 1-6 and have been outscored by more than 11 points, 29.0-17.7. The only team to be outscored by their opponents by double-digits the last two years is Cleveland.
- I know there is a ton of numbers out there on Lee’s value to this team, but this one is absolutely beyond staggering. Kind of like how Jeff Fisher has six winnings records in 22 seasons as a head coach and is expected to draw interest this offseason. Like, how is that possible? With Lee, the Cowboys are one of the two best teams in football over a two-year stretch. Without him, they are one of the two worst, at least statistically speaking.
- Not sure why Lee hasn’t been intercepting more passes; maybe has something to do with him moving from the middle to the weak-side. Over a 39-game stretch from his rookie season through Week 2 of 2015, Lee registered 12 interceptions, returning them for 305 yards and two touchdowns. Then he didn’t have a pick in the 34 games thereafter before Sunday’s fourth quarter against the Giants.
- My favorite play of Lee’s on Sunday was the end-around tackle for minus-9 yards on Giants wideout Sterling Shepard when the game was 10-10 in the fourth quarter. He was literally waiting at the point of the tackle before Eli Manning gave Shepard the ball. His ability to read plays is unlike anything I’ve ever seen for a defensive player. Ronnie Lott and Mike Singletary were both legendary for this ability when game film was a little more difficult to watch, but I’d put Lee up against them in terms of knowing what an offense is going to run. There has been a half dozen or so plays this season where Lee has been waiting for the offensive player, almost like he’s thinking, About time, thanks for showing up, now I must tackle you.
- As difficult as the final five games appeared before the season started, there’s no reason the Cowboys can’t run this slate. Washington and the Giants ended up decimated by injuries, both were easy sweeps for the Cowboys; the Raiders, picked by some for the Super Bowl, are 6-7; the Seahawks are beat up, too; and now the Eagles are missing Carson Wentz. By the way, imagine telling someone on Labor Day, yeah, the Cowboys are going 4-0 against Washington and the Giants, going to outscore them by a combined 120-46. Now, guess what their record will be entering Week 15? Like, 10-3, maybe even 11 or 12 wins.
- When Ezekiel Elliott was suspended, I predicted on Twitter that Rod Smithwould end up with more yards from scrimmage at the conclusion of the six games than Alfred Morris. More than likely, that won’t be the case, as Morris has 405 yards to Smith’s 275 entering the final week of Zeke being sidelined. Still, it’s going to be a whole lot closer than most anticipated. Was really fun to see Smith break out in the win over the Giants: 160 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns on just 11 touches. If it were me, I’d start him against the Raiders and try for 20 touches.
- While we’re talking about some previous predictions, I’d like to revisit my preseason pick for breakout player of the year, safety Jeff Heath. Took some criticism for saying he was going to make the Pro Bowl, and while he probably won’t, he’s played a lot better than anyone is giving him credit for. He should have been credited with that forced fumble in the first quarter, which along with the fourth-quarter interception would have given him five takeaways on the season. He’s also 10th among the league’s strong safeties in solo tackles with 52. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Heath was the team’s highest-graded player on the coaches’ film against the Giants, with 11 tackles, eight solo and the pick. Don’t think he missed a tackle either.
- La’el Collins has really come a long way the last five or six weeks, and without as much as a single practice, he’s had the best two games of his career back-to-back. They seem to be running more plays in his direction than on the left side, too. Factoring in the injuries, the line has performed admirably this season. No longer in discussion for league’s best, but no reason they couldn’t return to that level next year.
- Talked with the rookie secondary trio of Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods and Chidobe “Cheeto” Awuzie at length last week for a feature story I’m working on. They continue to impress on the field, with six of the team’s nine passes defensed against the Giants, and I came away impressed from talking with each. Lewis has the confidence of an All-Pro, which is what you need as a corner, and Awuzie needs a talk show, he’s as well spoken and talkative as any rookie I’ve dealt with in my 10 years covering the team.
- I rarely talk about the officiating, just not worth it, and it’s always been my belief that they are doing the best they can. I officiated high school basketball for a few years and it was the most difficult job I’ve ever had. It just all moves so quickly, and again, that’s at the high school level. Still, go back and watch DeMarcus Lawrence every snap of that game. I watched the tape this morning and counted 11 holding penalties, six of them blatant. And zero were called. Somehow, he still finished with six hurries and two really impressive solo tackles against the run. “Tank” is still the front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year, but a few more sacks down the stretch certainly wouldn’t hurt his case.
- Is there a more visually pleasing sight than football in the snow? Both Army-Navy and Indianapolis-Buffalo made for fantastic viewing. Wish the Cowboys played in the snow once in a while. Not sure how they feel about that. Was humorous watching the players, coaches and team personnel coming off the field in Frisco last Thursday, some were dressed like they were competing in the Iditarod. It was 42 degrees.
Follow Jeff Sullivan on Twitter, @SullyBaldHead, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.