Leighton Vander Esch pivotal for Cowboys defense in Wild Card

The return of Leighton Vander Esch Monday night helped the Cowboys’ defense hold Tom Brady and the Buccaneers to 14 points, well-needed confidence as they now travel to Levi’s Stadium to take on the 49ers in the divisional round.

After suffering a neck injury in week 15 against the Jaguars, LVE missed the next three games but returned last night for the playoffs.

The Cowboys welcomed him and two others starters back this week that helped the team dominate the Bucs from start to finish. He led the Cowboys with nine combined tackles and was extremely impressive in zone coverage.

He was inches away from intercepting a pass from Brady late in the fourth quarter.

The combination of Rachaad White and Leonard Fournette rushed for only 52 combined yards and no touchdowns on 12 total carries. The return of LVE and Johnathan Hankins played a massive part in that.

LVE is playing himself right into a new deal with the Cowboys. Dallas declined his fifth-year option. If the Cowboys don’t resign him, he will hit the free-agent market for the first time in his career.

Before the year started, I was out on him returning to the team on a new deal, and that was before Micah Parsons started lining up primarily on edge. Bringing him back on a new contract would be awesome if he could avoid his injuries.

It’s astonishing how much the defense fell off without him playing. I never thought he would be such a key player to the defense this season. He has moved up to my second most important player on that side of the ball, and I now have him slightly ahead of Trevon Diggs and obviously behind Parsons.

LVE made everyone better last night, and it clearly showed. The entire defense was in-sync and flying around the football—something we hadn’t seen in a few weeks.

We all know the Bucs’ offense could have been better this season. Tampa has only scored over 23 points once in the last nine games. We will need this Vander Esch next week against a red-hot 49ers team.

The Niners will try and run it down the Cowboys’ throat. Something Tampa couldn’t do because the Cowboys jumped out to an early lead.

The Cowboys will be on short rest when they take on the 49ers. With Dallas playing on Monday night and San Fran playing on Saturday night at home, the Cowboys are at a disadvantage, and that is by no means an excuse.

They will be ready to go. I hate the playoff schedule.

No idea how the travel schedule will look, but that is a lot of back and forth in five days. Going from Tampa back to Dallas and then to San Francisco may take a toll on some players. Having LVE back in the lineup should help keep others fresh and give them a chance to slow down Christian McCaffery and Deebo Samuel.

They could have had three games on Saturday and three on Sunday. Nonetheless, they didn’t, so it’s back to work on a short week.

This defense will need another performance like this next week. The one question we have asked ourselves all season is, can they be consistent? Well, we will know the answer to that in five days.

I like the Cowboys’ chances a lot more after what I saw yesterday than how they ended the regular season against Washington.


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