IRVING, Texas – The team’s leader in tackles and interceptions still doesn’t think he’s playing at last year’s level.
Despite sitting atop the chart in most defensive statistics in 2013,
“I think I was playing better at times last year,” Lee said. “I think I have room to improve. I still think there’s a handful of plays I leave on the field each week, and I’m trying to get rid of them.”
Lee leads the team in tackles (112) and tackles for loss (5), according to coaches’ film. He also leads the team with four interceptions on the year, totaling 174 return yards and a touchdown, yet he’s not even satisfied with that.
“I don’t know,” Lee said. ”I had a couple shots to get in the end zone and didn’t pump it in.”
The linebacker played some running back in high school, but he said as much as he follows his blockers to try to get as many yards as possible on returns, that doesn’t necessarily translate to the NFL game.
“I try to keep the ball tight,” Lee said. “The worst thing is picking up a fumble or going to get an interception and fumbling it and giving it back to the other team. That’s one of the things we talk about, try to get as many yards as you can, try to get to the sideline if you can, but keep the ball tight.”
If it’s possible the Cowboys can get even more out of Lee, they’d certainly take it. He said he’s working on being a more complete player in this system, and with the Cowboys sitting at 31st in the league in total defense, they could use whatever boost they can get.
The Cowboys’ hands will be full defensively this week against the Saints’ high-powered offense, which ranks second in the league. The trick for the linebackers will be containing tight end Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles as well as possible.
Lee said the defense always has to know where those two players are on the field, particularly because those two players are so dangerous through the air. The Cowboys saw something similar out of a tight end and running back combo with Antonio Gates and Danny Woodhead earlier this year in San Diego.
Even when a defender’s in perfect position, Lee said Graham’s a good enough athlete and tall enough player to come down with it. It helps that Brees typically fits it in wherever he needs to. Still, Lee said he believes the Cowboys have the defenders to challenge Graham, as tough as it may be.
He expects covering Graham will be a job most of the linebackers and defensive backs will have to take on at some point. Graham leads all NFL players with 10 receiving touchdowns, including four in the last two weeks.
Lee said the key to stopping Sproles is to make sure to rally around him as well as possible.
“That’s a tough matchup when you’ve got Sproles, who really runs routes like a wide receiver, unbelievable quickness,” Lee said. “Jimmy Graham, same way, pretty much a wide receiver, but he’s 6-6 and can jump and go get the ball. It’s really the matchup issues that they do a great job of moving those guys around. They’re versatile.”