Dallas Cowboys vs. Houston Texans rookie report: Leighton Vander Esch continues impressive play in Sean Lee’s absence

In a weekend that saw the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, and New York Giants all fall, the Dallas Cowboys were unable to take advantage and stake their claim in the NFC East. Fortunately, their 2-3 record will not keep them out of the hunt, but it was certainly a missed opportunity that leaves a bad taste in the mouths of Cowboys fans.

The offense struggled to get into the end zone, which is already a common theme through five games this season. The defense, meanwhile, allowed Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, and company move down the field, only to stiffen up in the red zone. While the defense did not play exceptionally well all night, they certainly appeared to have played well enough for a win.

Let’s take a look at how the rookies performed on the big stage on Sunday Night Football in week five.

Leighton Vander Esch

Leighton Vander Esch has seemingly been playing with a chip on his shoulder since taking the field for the Dallas Cowboys in his first season. Maybe it is because he remembers the fan reaction when Dallas selected him in AT&T Stadium. Maybe it is because he wants to prove that a former eight-man football player can not only play — but succeed — on the highest level. Maybe he is just good at football?

Whatever the case is, LVE has been playing at an exeptional level for this defense since week two, where he played approximately 20 snaps and made seven stops. Vander Esch followed that up with impressive outings in a loss versus the Seahawks in Seattle and again in a victory over the Lions back at home in week four.

The talk has been surrounding Jaylon Smith — who had himself a solid game in his own right as he flew all over the field — but Vander Esch did not disappoint against Houston, either.

The Boise State Broncos product led the team in tackles with 11 during the Sunday Night Football overtime loss, nine of which were solo. Whatever your feeling was when the Cowboys selected him back in May, Vander Esch appears to be a stud at linebacker for America’s Team.

Connor WIlliams

Some Cowboys fans were more thrilled about the Connor WIlliams pick than the LVE pick, as the Texas Longhorns product had some first-round hype with his ability to play different positions across the offensive line. With the hole at left guard, Williams would seemingly be an ideal fit next to Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick.

While Frederick has yet to play a regular season snap in 2018, Williams has had to hold his own against quality defensive fronts over the course of his first month on the professional level. Williams had his ups and his downs, allowing sacks and QB pressures, but also being a solid blocker for Ezekiel Elliott in the run game.

Williams was called for a critical (and controversial) holding call on big Zeke run that looked to give Dallas some momentum on Sunday evening. It was a call that hurt the Cowboys offense from gaining traction in an eventual loss.

Michael Gallup

The need for playmakers, other than Zeke, on the Cowboys offense is evident. Dak has struggled, the play-calling has raised eyebrows, and the offensive line has struggled without Frederick manning the middle.

There was a lot of hype surrounding the team’s third-round selection, but Gallup has yet to really make an impact with the Cowboys through five games this season. He drew some PI’s in week one and made that 37-yard grab in week four, but other than that?

Gallup grabbed one pass for six yards — but, in fairness, the rookie may have had a little more to his total on this play, had things gone right:

Whether it be the quarterback, the receivers, or the coaching staff (or all three), this passing game simply cannot get going. Will Gallup be able to make an impact before season’s end?

Dorance Armstrong Jr.

Dorance Armstrong Jr. is behind a loaded defensive end unit in Dallas, but the Kansas Jayhawks rookie has shown some potential with the snaps that he has received over his first five games with the Cowboys.

Armstrong was able to find his way into the box score during his limited snaps, making one stop on the night. The rookie also saw some snaps at the 3-tech during the game on passing downs. It will be interesting to see how the staff uses the 6-foot-4, 257-pound defensive lineman moving forward.

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