I get it. The doom and gloom guys dominating the Dallas Cowboys news cycle and Twittersphere this year have been absolutely unbearable. Like Chicken Little, they’ve yelled “the sky is falling” so many times, no one takes them seriously when they say it anymore.
So when the completely unsurprising news broke that Tyron Smith fell to injury and would be lost for upwards of eight weeks, fans took the apocalyptical responses from the media as another pessimistic overreaction by folks who just love to be miserable. Bad news? Yes. But end of the world? Certainly not, right?
I’m here to say, Chicken Little is right this time.
The Dallas Cowboys cannot expect to survive the loss of Tyron Smith without major adjustments to their offensive attack.
The Dallas Cowboys rolled into the 2022 preseason with offensive tackle as one of their thinnest positions, with arguably the steepest falloff in talent after the top ranks. With all due respect to CeeDee Lamb and the WR corps, OT was a position the Cowboys could least afford to suffer injury.
While the Cowboys invested a pair of Day 3 picks in Josh Ball and Matt Waletzko in consecutive drafts, both players are seen as projects and neither appear to be remotely ready for bright lights of the NFL.
Per Next Gen Stats, the Cowboys dropped 50% in EPA in games Tyron Smith has missed in his career. That’s enormous.
Ball, the expected replacement of Smith in the lineup, has had moments of competence as a pass-protector but he’s also had far too many misses. Multiple times we’ve seen Ball miss a block completely, allowing a pass rusher a free shot at the QB without an ounce of resistance.
At the very least you need a speedbump to slow the traffic aimed at your $40 million/year QB. That can’t be too much to ask, but with Ball, it seems it is.
Terence Steele is seen as a solution to some. Steele bounced between the left and right side last season and could do it again this year. Maybe Zack Martin or Ball can play RT while Steele’s protecting Dak Prescott‘s blindside, right?
Bad idea. All things considered, Steele was an acceptable right tackle for the Cowboys last season, but when he moved to the left he was nothing short of abysmal. In one game alone, Steele nearly doubled the number of pressures Smith allowed at LT all year (Per PFF, Smith allowed five pressures in seven games while Steele allowed 9 in one game).
The lesson to learn here is that Terence Steele is NOT a viable option on the left side.
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Tyler Smith is also seen by many as a solution. In fact, it’s something I’ve forecasted all summer and a possible reason Connor McGovern has been getting so many first team reps at LG despite Tyler Smith being noticeably better.
Tyler is seen as the LT of the future so perhaps this just expedites the switch?
That’s good in theory, but not so great in reality. Smith was a sloppy LT at Tulsa who lead the universe in penalties. He’s athletic and has superhero strength so he has the potential to be a LT in the NFL, he’s just uber-raw, abnormally young (21), and will take time to develop. Keep in mind, even Tyron took time becoming an NFL LT, and he was far more developed than Tyler Smith is as a rookie.
How the Dallas Cowboys survive
The Dallas Cowboys can’t just reshuffle the deck and expect things to operate as they initially planned. They have to bring in new personnel or they have to fundamentally change the offense. We discussed the need for Isaiah Wynn before Tyron was injured. That’s even more important now
Adding Wynn as the LT (his preferred position) would stabilize everything else because no further position moves would be needed.
Being a run-heavy offense that relies on close scores, strong defense, and penalty free football is another course of action. It’s not realistic given the propensity for penalties and horrific field goal kicking, but it minimizes the impact of a terrible LT.
Quick strike passing is another course of action. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning didn’t always have the best pass protection but they were consistently one of the fastest throwing offenses in the league. This kind of philosophical change would have to come from the top (McCarthy-Moore) but is probably necessary, regardless.
The Dallas Cowboys must adjust
At the end of the day, the Dallas Cowboys cannot survive the loss of Tyron Smith without making major changes either in personnel or in offensive philosophy. ESPN’s Next Gen Stats tracked the effectiveness of the Dallas Cowboys offense with, and without, Tyron in the lineup and determined the Cowboys were over 50% less efficient in EPA without Tyron. That’s the kind of impact that ruins a season.
Let’s pray the Dallas Cowboys do something because this is legit bad. Re-shuffling the O-line won’t get it done, the Cowboys have to do something big to survive a loss of this magnitude.