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3 & Out: No Better Time For Complementary Ball


FRISCO, Texas – Three quick topics ahead of Sunday's regular-season 'playoff game' at the Linc in Philly:

  • Lee's moment
  • Pick your poison
  • TD spike

I Know…

why it's so easy to root for Sean Lee.

Lee's high school coach, Jim Render, was in the AT&T Stadium crowd last Sunday when Lee picked off Jared Goff and nearly returned it for a touchdown, complete with a nifty spin move reminiscent of his running back days at Upper St. Clair in the Pittsburgh area.

"I don't know if I've been more excited during a play in a football game than I was when Sean Lee intercepted that ball," quarterback Dak Prescott said.

Lee has always had the respect of his teammates. His preparation and competitive streak have always been virtually unmatched. As Render told me in a 2016 interview, "That's just the way he is. If somebody says, 'Hey we're going to compete,' (his reaction is) 'OK, if we're going to compete, let's win.'"

This year, Lee's 10th with the organization, provides another layer. It's hard to think of another Cowboys player with as much tenure and as much productivity as Lee (a long-time captain with All-Pro credentials) who accepted such a drastically different role this far into his career.

Consider this: In 2017, before the Cowboys drafted Leighton Vander Esch and before Jaylon Smith had completely regained his pre-injury form, Lee took 93 percent of the defensive snaps in the 10 games he started and finished.

This year: In the eight games that Vander Esch has started and finished, Lee played only 39 percent of the defensive snaps in his move to strong-side linebacker.

Obviously that number has risen significantly the last month with Vander Esch currently sidelined by a neck injury. But after a highly frustrating 2018 season riddled with injuries, Lee contemplated his football future and decided he wanted to keep playing for this type of moment – Sunday at Philly, an NFC East title at stake – regardless of whether he played 60 snaps a game anymore.

"To me it was more the frustration of constantly being out and feeling like you're letting your teammates down," he recalled. "I just wanted to be consistent with my role and help this team any way I could. And I felt like the last two years, particularly in 2018, I wasn't consistently on the field enough to help us. And if I'm not going to help us, should I be playing?

"So my thing was, hey, I've got to find a way to help us, whatever that is."

He's doing just that in 2019. And guys respect the heck out of him for it.

I Think…

there's no better example of Jason Garrett's 'attack defenses different ways' adage than the Rams game.

If someone had told you last week the Cowboys would get four catches from their top four wide receivers, would you have picked a 44-point performance from the offense?

One of those four catches was Tavon Austin's 59-yard touchdown. That meant the starting trio of Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb had three catches for 22 yards. Kind of incredible when you think about how dynamic and efficient the offense was.

This was a day for the running game: 248 combined rushing yards and three touchdowns from Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. And Prescott was able to find success with the short to intermediate passing game: Elliott, Pollard and tight ends Jason Witten and Blake Jarwin had 11 catches for 52 yards and a score.

"Sometimes the game prevents you from being 30 runs, 30 passes. Just the way it goes," Garrett said. "But you want to be effective in both areas. Obviously we ran the ball more in this game and were able to control the game because of that. But we made some big plays in the passing game at critical moments."

The perfect time for complementary football.

That's particularly salient this week with Prescott nursing a right shoulder injury. Players on Wednesday sounded confident the fourth-year starter, who has never missed an NFL game due to injury, would be ready to go Sunday at Philly.

Whether Prescott is 100 percent or not, an ascending run game will critical Sunday … and in January if the team can play its way into the tournament.

I Have No Idea…

exactly how many times Jason Witten has delivered a touchdown spike celebration.

But, thanks to the miracle of YouTube, career touchdown No. 72 wasn't Witten's first spike. Indeed, the future Hall of Famer did so at Texas Stadium after his first career TD in December 2003: a 36-yard catch from Quincy Carter in a win over the Giants.

Last Sunday's TD shifted momentum in the Cowboys' favor for good against L.A. And, like Lee, Witten isn't back in uniform this season for anything other than games like this Sunday at the Linc.

"Those are two guys that embody everything that 'the star' means," Prescott said.