The Dallas Cowboys have suffered their fair share of linebackers injuries through just two weeks of the regular season, already missing starter Leighton Vander Esch and primary backup Sean Lee.
Luckily, veteran Joe Thomas had been waiting in the wings. After signing back with the club for a relatively paltry $1.1 million one-year deal, the former Packer was thrust into a full-time role. Even though it’s been a two-week sample size, Thomas has thrived in his newfound playing time, especially in the miraculous Week 2 comeback win against Atlanta.
Thomas touched on several topics this week, including the Cowboys’ aggressive special teams’ aggressive, his increase in workload, and the difficult Week 3 matchup against Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks.
When asked how they played in the home opener against the Falcons, Thomas noted that the Cowboys defense needs to do a better job of getting off the field on third down.
Thomas was spot on, as the Cowboys have struggled to get off the field in crucial situations. In two games, the Dallas defense has allowed 17 successful conversions on 34 third down attempts. That equals a 50 percent rate, which is tied for the sixth worst in the league.
Obviously, you never want a teammate to miss time with an injury, but the South Carolina native prepared himself over the offseason for any scenario.
“I came into the season with the mindset of, I’m going to backup each position, and I came into this season with a mindset of a starter. So when Leighton went down I just accepted that role and kept moving forward with it,” Thomas said.
One reporter asked if a full plate of snaps like last week’s 75 wore the veteran linebacker out. Thomas, the consummate professional he is, responded,
“No, that’s what the off season is for, just conditioning. So it wasn’t too challenging. I’m in pretty good shape and I’ve started games before so it wasn’t a big deal.”
He would later speak on the chemistry the linebacker group has developed during his time in Dallas, stating, “We’ve been together for three years, all those guys, Jaylon, Leighton, and Sean. I’ve been rotating in with all those guys, so the chemistry is good with all of us. It’s all about communication. When you communicate everything runs smoothly.”
Thomas’ best season as a pro came in 2016 in Green Bay under current Dallas head coach Mike McCarthy. The reunion appears to be paying dividends for both parties.
Vnader Esch (collarbone) and Lee (sports hernia) are set to rejoin the Cowboys in the second half of the season, but it looks like Thomas will be holding down the starting role for multiple weeks.
The former South Carolina St product has 17 tackles, a mark that’s second best on the team behind Jaylon Smith. Thomas was even graded by PFF as the Cowboys best defender last Sunday against the Falcons, posting a grade of 80.2.
Highest graded offensive and defensive #Cowboys in Week 2 (min 10 snaps):
Blake Bell 73.0
Joe Thomas 80.2
All W2 grades are available on pff dot com
— PFF DAL Cowboys (@PFF_Cowboys) September 21, 2020
A lot was made of the Cowboys two failed fake punts in that second-half comeback win last Sunday. Thomas has been a regular on special teams since joining Dallas in 2018, and was asked if he notices the new coaching staff’s increased willingness to be aggressive or gamble on fourth down plays.
“I wouldn’t say gamble, I would definitely say aggression though. We’re trying to steal possessions,” Thomas replied. “We came up short this past week, but I don’t think we’re going to take our foot off the pedal on special teams… It’s just a more aggressive [coaching] staff,” Thomas would end with.
John Fassel, the Cowboys recently hired Special Teams Coordinator, is the brains behind the Cowboys revamped special teams unit.
The last topic discussed was the Cowboys Week 3 opponent, Seattle. Russell Wilson and his team are off to a blazing 2-0 start, making quick work of Atlanta and pulling out a tough win against New England.
Thomas explained the difference in Wilson and the quarterbacks Dallas has faced this year, saying,
“Wilson’s on fire right now, as everyone can see. He’s a playmaker. You have to keep him in the pocket. The last two guys we faced are guys that I wouldn’t call stationary, but they don’t have the legs that Russell has. He’s a dual threat with the option game as well and I think he has the best deep ball in the game. We’re just going to have to contain him, keep him in the pocket, keeps hands and bodies in his face and keep him guessing.” Thomas would add, “It’s a challenge, but I think we have the guys up front to accomplish what the game plan calls for.
It’s been Wilson who’s keeping opposing defenses guessing throughout the early part of the year. An MVP favorite through only two games, Wilson has thrown for 610 yards, 9 touchdowns, completed 82 percent of his passes, and has only one interception.
As if Wilson wasn’t a challenge enough for a healthy Dallas squad, Cowboys cornerback Chidobe Awuzie joined fellow corner Anthony Brown on the IR. Jourdan Lewis should face off against the slot man for the Seahawks, Tyler Lockette, and impressive rookie Trevon Diggs will see plenty of DK Metcalf on the outside.
The Cowboy defense needs to do one of the most challenging things in the league this week; pressure Wilson to get the ball out of hands quickly, without creating lanes for him to scramble.
Thomas, along with the rest of the Dallas defenders, must have their best performance of the year to-date if the Cowboys want to hand Seattle their first loss.
The full interview with Thomas can be found below.
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