Focus On: Sean Lee

Focus On: Sean Lee

Credit: Getty Images

Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett hugs middle linebacker Sean Lee (50), after he ran back an interception for a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers in the second quarter at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California, Sunday, September 29, 2013. (Rodger Mallison/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images)



WFAA Sports

Posted on October 15, 2013 at 11:00 AM

Who's the LB who's third in tackles in the whoooo-le league?


You damn right.

Who's the fourth year vet who's leadership and preparation make him the best bet?


Can you dig it?

Who's the Cowboys defender that is playing very well yet still is showing a weakness in his game, but this blogger has full confidence he'll address the technique issues that have lead to coverage breakdowns and further strengthen his game into being one of the best all-around linebackers in the NFL?


I'm talking about Sean.


Obviously, much like Lee still has work to do covering tight ends up the seam, I need to work on my song parody game.

Of course, Lee having a lot of tackles is somewhat to be expected. He'sa MLB in a 4-3, which is a position designed for a lot of tackles.  So, saying Sean Lee has a lot of tackles is a little like starting off your part of your annual review by saying “I'm here on time pretty much a lot of the time”- it's just meeting basic expectations. maintains a metric called “Tackle Factor”. Tackle Factor does a couple things:

Compares a player's rate of tackles compared to the “expected” rate of tackles for the position they play.

Proves that creativity in naming their metrics is not a forte of

Lee's TF for this season is 1.54, which ties him for third in the league. A 4-3 MLB is expected to contribute 11.6% of his team's tackles- that 1.54 figure tells you Lee has contributed to 17.86% of Dallas's tackles. Pretty impressive, and it ties with for third in the league among linebackers.

But, of course, tackle counts can be misleading. A tackle on an RB is fine, but if it's seven yards down from the line of scrimmage, that's not exactly what we want now is it? Similarly, AdvancedNFLStats keeps a metric called “Success Count”, which is a running measure of the amount of plays a player is involved in that increase his team's odds of winning (which they measure in Expected Points Added (EPA), which is really cool but too in-depth to get into here). Lee has 35 SC's for the season. The Cowboy's #2 (Hatcher) and #3 (Church) combine for 37 SCs. In other words, if something good happens on the Dallas defense, there's overwhelming odds that Sean Lee was involved in it.

The downside does exist, for Lee, and it's fairly obvious- he just hasn't been effective covering tight ends. In Week 1, Brandon Meyers caught 7 passes for 66 yards. In Week 2, Sean McGrath and Anthony Fasano combined for 4 receptions for 57 yards. In Week 3, Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks combined for 10 receptions and 80 on -gulp- 12 targets. Everybody knows what Antonio Gates (10-136 on 10 targets) and Julius Thomas (9-122 on 12 targets) did to the Cowboys.  Jared Reed went 4-58-6 on Sunday.

Now, I don't have the scouting expertise, video time, or stomach to go back and check on how many of those TE receptions were on Lee's broken coverage, and we all know his linebacking partner in crime Bruce Carter has had his share of difficulties adapting to coverage in the new scheme, and Church/Wilcox have probably had their share of broken coverage in those 44 receptions above. But it's one of those football truisms that tight ends and Tampa-2 MLB's get to be very familiar with another through the course of a game (I think Chris Collinsworth has actually said more words on this subject over the past decade that Ernest Hemingway wrote over his career).

Even aside from the tight end issue, the fact remains the Cowboys are 30th in opposing passing yards and 20th in opposing points. When assigning blame, there's plenty of options; I tend to feel like, even though he's performed statistically well, Lee deserves a good portion of responsibility for the team's defensive performance. Maybe it goes against my central statistical philosophy, but Lee's a captain for the team and bears a lot of on-field responsibility for communications and making sure players are in the right place. In that regard, it's tough to say he's succeeding.

Then again, playing behind Jason Hatcher and His Replacement Level All-Stars on the defensive line has to drain quite a bit out of you. In short, Sean, you should start off your annual review with that TF thing, and just be ready when Jerry Jones brings up the tight ends thing.

(Yes, I do intend to leave you with the mental image of Jerry Jones personally conducting annual reviews with not only Cowboys players, but all other Cowboys personnel, in case you were wondering.)