IRVING, Texas -- Some observations about the Cowboys' defense from the film room at Valley Ranch:
The Lions were facing a 2nd and 10 from their own 37 yard line with 40 seconds on the clock and no timeouts. Matthew Stafford brings his teammates to the line in an empty formation out of "11" personnel. Monte Kiffin counters with his nickel package, with Brandon Carr and B.W. Webb on the left side with Jeff Heath over the top. On the right side of the defense is Orlando Scandrick on the outside of single receiver Kris Durham, with Jakar Hamilton inside of him.
The Cowboys are going to rush four with George Selvie, Nick Hayden, Jason Hatcher and Kyle Wilber. Sean Lee and Bruce Carter are playing 12 yards deep underneath, so Kiffin is giving a Cover 2 look to Stafford as he takes the snap.
Both Reggie Bush and Brandon Pettgrew stay into block. As they see the four man rush, they head out into their routes. Stafford's eyes take a quick peek to the left, then back to his right as he is watching the routes develop for Calvin Johnson and Jeremy Ross out of the slot.
To the top, Carr turns his body to funnel Johnson inside to Heath, who is working along the numbers in position. Webb has positioned himself between Ross, behind him, but also keeping an eye on Pettigrew underneath. Sean Lee has a deep drop as well, and he is there to handle Ross as.
On the right side, Carter widens on his drop to handle Bush, who is heading toward the flat. Durham drives Scandrick to the outside, then works back up inside. At four yards up the field, Durham is now inside of Scandrick, who begins to get in position to try and defend the route.
Inside of Scandrick, Hamilton is dropping four yards inside the numbers and straight back, his head turned toward Stafford and the pocket -- unaware of the route developing on the outside.
In the pocket, as Stafford retreats with the ball, Selvie slants down hard inside, which gets Stafford's attention. But LaAdrian Waddle is able to work him further inside. Nick Hayden tries to spin away from Larry Warford and is able to get near Stafford, who has now moved to the right in the pocket and turned his attention to Durham running down the sideline. Stafford fires the ball in his direction.
Scandrick is reaching for Durham, who is a step in front of him. The ball is on a rope and in the perfect spot for Durham to make the catch. Hamilton tries to rally from the position of his drop but there is just too much distance to cover and he is no help to Scandrick as the ball arrives on target.
Hamilton's lack of experience in the situation really hurt him here, and the fact that he was looking at the quarterback and not the route developing was a factor as well.
It was a tremendous, clutch throw by Stafford and an even better catch by Durham. It took advantage of a rookie safety in Hamilton, who was put in that situation because of the hamstring injury to Barry Church.
Big Play Man
There were not many bright spots for a defense that struggled the majority of the day against the Lions, but if there was one, it was Sean Lee.
There were plenty of times in this game where Lee was around the ball and generally in the pile making the tackle. Where Lee doesn't get the credit he deserves is in pass coverage, and on Sunday afternoon, he put on a show with two interceptions. What makes Lee so productive in this area is his ability to play with awareness and an understanding of route development.
With the Lions driving the ball in the second quarter and facing a 3rd and 5 on the Cowboys 27 yard line, Lee stepped up and showed you this awareness I'm speaking of.
The Lions had a twins set to the right with Calvin Johnson inside of Jeremy Ross. Before the snap, Stafford looks in that direction to bring Ross down inside in motion. Lee takes a peek twice, then a third time to the outside to see the alignment that the Lions have now adjusted to.
Ross is now standing tight to Johnson, who at the snap breaks hard to the inside, as he hand fights with Carr trying to get off the line. Lee begins his drop to the outside, but his body is now turned and moving toward Ross as he starts inside on the slant.
Scandrick, who has Ross, is in no position to drive on the ball but tries anyway. Ross sees Lee underneath and tries to square up for the ball but Lee is too quick and in perfect position to snatch the ball, which he is able to do. It was a beautiful catch by Lee, who also doesn't get enough credit for his ball skills -- which are better than some of the defensive backs on this team.
Lee is able to catch the ball on the move and head up the field on the return before being knocked down at the Lions four yard line. The offense was later able to score on a Dez Bryant touchdown and take a 10-7 lead. It was Lee's second interception of the day and fourth of the season, which gives him the team lead.
There are so many positive traits to Sean Lee's game as a linebacker but he deserves more credit as an outstanding cover linebacker.