Their win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday was anything but pretty. It was a gritty, defensive 60 minutes that won’t be making any Dallas Cowboys highlight reels. But to dismiss the game would be missing out on the player that could spur the Cowboys defense to be the menacing behemoth it was supposed to be under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
In the first quarter when the Cowboys were down seven, after Tony Romo had thrown an interception on the first drive, Dallas got to return the favor after linebacker Sean Lee picked off Josh Freeman.
It ultimately led to a DeMarco Murray touchdown—the only one Dallas would find during the day.
Lee was the lone defensive star from last season’s paltry 8-8 outing. Since joining the Cowboys in 2010 he has accumulated seven interceptions, the most by any linebacker in the NFL. He was also responsible for the only other turnover for the Cowboys this season in their opener against the New York Giants with a forced fumble (the second of his career).
In the win on Sunday, he logged six tackles (four solo), tacking on another accomplishment to his interception. Against the Giants, Lee had 10 solo tackles.
After the game coach Jason Garrett was asked to comment about Sean Lee, and his contribution to the team (h/t Todd Archer, ESPNDallas.com). “He’s just an outstanding football player.” Garrett also mentioned an instinctive athletic ability Lee possesses. “You see it in the number of tackles he makes, but you also see his ability to play the ball.”
He is listed as probable for the Cowboys' upcoming game against the Chicago Bears on Monday because of his hip. Dallas desperately needs Lee to stay healthy all year and to develop as a maturing leader for this defense.
Entering game three against Tampa Bay was almost a must-win for Dallas, after the embarrassment a week earlier in their 27-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. This win was an ugly one, for sure, but one that can be solely attributed to the defense.
Lee’s athleticism is a boon for the Cowboys.
With Brandon Carr shuffling back and forth between cornerback and safety, and Mike Jenkins still recovering from a shoulder injury, the Cowboys are going to need as much from their linebackers as ever. DeMarcus Ware is still the powerhouse linebacker he always was—but he’s now 30.
Under the leadership of Lee, this defense could become beastly—and as proved Sunday, can bail out the offense when they find it tough to score.