The Dallas Cowboys have three pretty good linebackers in Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, and Leighton Vander Esch. It’s a huge improvement from just a few years ago when the Cowboys defense had little to no talent, leaving them screwed when Sean Lee would inevitably get hurt. Stephen Jones, Jerry Jones’ large adult son, is fired up about the talent the team has at the position, and he’s not wrong to be excited: it’s a strong group of players.
Stephen Jones on Cowboys LBs:— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) August 11, 2019
We're gonna give opposing teams fits...Sean, Jaylon & Leighton... they're not gonna be able to ID.
All 3 can do all 3 positions. They're not going to know who's Will, who's Mike, who's Sam. They can all run to the ball & they all can play coverage. pic.twitter.com/ksqLnuScKO
But Stephen Jones doesn’t understand that football has changed and having three good linebackers is not important.
Base defense in the NFL is no longer 4-3 or 3-4, and hasn’t been for a while. It’s nickel. For the eighth straight year, defenses have put five defensive backs on the field for a majority of snaps, because offenses are putting three wide receivers on the field for a majority of snaps. 11 personnel is now the standard offensive starting lineup. And with it, the old school base defenses are going away. According to Football Outsiders, 2018 was the first season where old school base defenses were used on 25% or fewer snaps. Having three good linebackers is nice for depth, but when it comes to the actual games, you’re going to have one of them on the sideline most of the time.
Dallas isn’t an exception to the rule. The Cowboys played 4-3 on just 28% of snaps in 2018, 11th most. In terms of personnel usage, they’re nothing special. Additionally, the trio of Lee, Smith, and Vander Esch didn’t play a full season together last year and given their injury history, probably won’t this year.
Perhaps this is a systemic failure in the Cowboys organization (H/T Arif Hasan).