Leighton Vander Esch

At this point, do the praises need to sing any louder for what Vander-Esch has done on the field for the Cowboys? Becoming a staple into what this defense is able to do and the level they can reach, LVE looks like a star to be for years to come. Now receiving national attention and the main candidate to be Rookie Defensive Player of the Year in a very deep class, it could be quickly dampened within this last stretch of the season if it’s not maintained. 
When the Cowboys met with their division-rival, Philadelphia Eagles, in week 10, Dallas left Lincoln Financial Field with a 27-20 victory. A game that garnered no real type of consistent flow for the Cowboys, it was the week the defense gave up 421 total yards, 350 coming through the pass. The second most for both on the season, it was perennial TE Zach Ertz that led the game with 14 receptions for 145 yards and two touchdowns. 
Able to catch a pass on 7 different defenders, Ertz success that night largely came against LVE. On 5 targets, Ertz reeled in 4 passes for 42 yards, but no touchdowns. The one missed targetlooked something like this:

Examining the play, most would question the pass on how Wentz was not able to see LVE, and why the throw didn’t go to Golden Tate running a drag against a DT? Reasons being, it could’ve just been a miscue, but this is a beloved play for the Eagles offense. Although the look isn’t typically out of an empty set, it’s about creating an illusion and throwing a timed route right into the space that was made, to where the defense is usually too late to react. The Golden Tate drag with Ertz doing an in-route a level above to the opposite direction is exactly that. 
Last week against the Redskins, on the very first play the Eagles came out in basic trips right with both Ertz & Goedert on the field. With each of them besides opposite tackles it gives the defense a possible run look, but given their ability to get downfield, it has to be respected. When Wentz makes this pass, there’s about three Redskins near Ertz on what was just a simple “gimme” throw and catch Wentz wasn’t afraid to fit into. The play action and Eagles scheme that usually favors their RBs into catching passes, especially with the return of Sproles, keeps LBs’ eyes on them. If LVE can stay true to his zone and not leave the seam, a number of things can be disrupted from timing to tendencies.

Once again, basic trips but to the left side, create the illusion with the RB to open that space for an easy pass to Ertz.

Assuredly, Marinelli and Richard recognize the same concepts and the weapon Ertz is. He’s a game changer that can do everything on the field any TE can do and will aim to have a similar impact as he did in game 1 versus Dallas. Staying on his Ps & Qs, if it’s not stopped, LVE can suppress and put a confident Eagles offense in a bind.

Connor Williams/ Xavier Sua-Filo

Before anything is explained or said, this not a shot directed towards Williams or Sua-Filo. Both have contributed greatly to this team are reasons as to why this team is in the position it is now.

These two will make for an interesting debate for the rest of the season. Starting with Connor Williams, he’s the Cowboys second-round pick the front office had their minds locked on in the draft, who has done more good than bad for the team. Flip to the in-season pickup of Xavier Sua-Filo, the journeyman has proven to himself and Dallas fans that he can bring significant value to a team in the NFL. Now faced with the dilemma, who should the Cowboys roll with? 
The narratives are very complex as whole, but are being overstated to the benefit of either party. As Williams got hurt against the Titans and would receive a scope on his knee, sidelining him for the next three weeks, the Cowboys would go on a now 4-game winning streak. In the mix of this and aside from the details, Amari Cooper is traded to the Cowboys and Marc Colombo became the newest OL coach. Reaching over 100+ rushing yards in three of the four games, Sua-Filo has largely been in the thanks of this sudden boost of appreciation. However, winning blinds the best of us and easily ostracizes the disliked. 
It seems the notion to claim Sua-Filo has been the better option for Dallas and should be for the future, but exactly how far is the margin of the running game when Williams was the starter vs Sua-Filo?

Chart via ProFootballReference.com

C. Williams at LG – 136.9 rushing yards per game

XSF at LG – 124 rushing yards per game

With a lesser passing attack when Williams held the LG position, Dallas was still able and averaged more rushing yards per game. While the bickering is among these two for fans on who should be the starter, the answer has been easy. It’s Amari Cooper.

The newfound connection between him and Dak is expanding roles for several players and changing opponents defensive philosophies against Dallas. Thus, opening the running game and making Zeke susceptible to 90 touches in a 3 game, 12 day span. A concept that is simple to realize, but hard to translate when the public wants who they want. Then as pass blockers, the argument may not hold much weight for one side.

In Sua-Filo’s defense, he fell into a predicament to face the toughest run defense in the league without LT Tyron Smith. As well as dealing with an ankle issue, it was a very rough night for XSF last week. According to PFF, he would finish the game with a 50.7 run-blocking grade and a 22.6 run-blocking grade. Ones that would rank him dead last, and the second to lowest behind TE Rico Gathers, the performance was forgettable.

via PFF

Although having a slow decline through the 4 weeks, XSF has the upper hand in having the NFL experience, being able to process communication better, and picking up Colombo’s concept easier. Not to say Williams does not have the intelligence to do so, but remember, “always listen to your elders”. The wisdom is tried and the awareness has been tested, so usually no matter how much an individual may know, witnessing it can be everything. Furthermore, XSF was the starter when the Cowboys played the Eagles the first time, and performed extremely well blocking the likes of Fletcher Cox and Haloti Ngata. Allowing only 2 pressures and Zeke averaging 7.3 yards on 4 rushes whenever running through the middle-left of the OL, XSF solidified his night. Now negated from the injury report, the familiarity could ring the bells for him. As Cowboys Nation restlessly awaits the decision to hastily tweet who was wrong, Colombo and company mull over a decision of sureness and possible regret for America’s Game of the Week.

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