There were some heroes in the Dallas Cowboys’ win over the Detroit Lions, players we are relying on to continue the winning against the Houston Texans. Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott, DeMarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Krispy Kreme-loving Joe Looney and the rest of the offensive line - all have been praised, and deservedly so.
But there was one other hero from that much-needed win who has not gotten the notice he should. That is tight end Geoff Swaim, whose role in the victory was a lot more significant than you probably think. As a matter of fact, he deserves a lot of credit for getting the Dallas offense out of neutral.
Think back a moment. After a week heaping ashes on our heads, rending our garments, and gnashing our teeth over the lack of big offensive plays against the Seattle Seahawks, we were all starting to feel a little queasy after the first Cowboys possession went three-and-out when Ezekiel Elliott (who carried the ball on all three of those snaps) was uncharacteristically stuffed on 3rd and 1. Dallas needed something, anything, to get the offense rolling and create some confidence. Then, after the defense got off the field and Dallas had the ball on their own 10-yard line to start their second possession, this happened.
Geoff Swaim, the Cowboys new Jason Witten. pic.twitter.com/wZZZ760QrG— Justin Lonero (@JustinLonero) October 1, 2018
Now, the text on that tweet is certainly not accurate. Swaim has a long way to go to show he has the craftiness at getting open and the sure-handedness that were hallmarks of Jason Witten.
But he is certainly a better open field runner than Witten was in his last few seasons.
That play was just what the Cowboys needed. It got them a nice chunk of yardage, gave a little nudge to the composure of the Detroit defense, and greatly improved the field position. In addition to there being a very nice run after the catch, Swaim was a wide-open target for Prescott. That is almost certainly due to a very nice play call and design from Scott Linehan.
And of course, the Swaim Train wasn’t done for the day.
It was a career day for Swaim. Although, that is not saying all that much. In addition to the 31-yard kickstart and the touchdown, he only had one other catch for seven yards (it was the first play of the final, game-winning drive, however). Swaim has only caught 11 passes total this season, and projects out to just over 400 yards and four scores on the season. Even as paltry as his numbers are so far, they still eclipse all he had done prior to 2018. One of the most cited stats during the offseason was that Swaim was the only tight end on the roster with any catches at all - a grand total of nine.
But this isn’t about becoming a superstar or part of a new “triplets”. It is about whether Dallas has a functional tight end, something that is required to make their offense work. No one was sure of that before the season started. Now, to this point at least, the answer is starting to look like “yes”.
Not everyone on an NFL team can be a superstar. The salary cap makes that impossible. Nor is there enough talent to go around in the league. What does work is to have a handful of those All-Pro and Pro-Bowl types, with a bunch of good, solid, working-class players to complement the roster. Players who go out, do their jobs, and don’t let the team down. What Swaim demonstrated against the Lions was that he can do the basics. He can be a cog in the machine that makes it all work better.
And part of it all is the way he is used by Linehan. While the two plays you can watch above were different in many ways, they have one thing in common. In both, Swaim is wide, wide open. There are no defenders within yards of him. That allowed him to get going and make that very nice run in the first one, and on the touchdown, all he had to do was not drop the danged ball. This is not a testament to Swaim’s skill at running a route or getting away from a defender. Nope. This was pure scheme and play-calling. Both plays were in situations where the Lions were likely looking for the ball to go to Elliott, so Swaim was able to sneak out and find those vast spreads of green (or blue and silver in the end zone) to basically wait, unhindered, for the ball to get to him.
So Swaim’s success going forward is going to be dependent on his OC, and also on the ball-handling and faking skills of his QB. The latter is not really doubted, as even in his bad stretches, Prescott has done well with play-action and such. And last Sunday, at least, Linehan was dialing up the good stuff.
From a broader perspective, the win was also about building confidence on the offense, particularly among teammates. Swaim did his part by making the catches and the plays he needed to. He does not need to play like a future Hall of Famer. There are three or four players with that potential on the offense already.
And he doesn’t need to put up huge numbers. While 400 yards may not be enough, 600-800 should get ‘er done, and three more touchdowns will suffice if Linehan can get some of those for the rest of his receiving corps.
Swaim may never garner any post-season honors, but that in no way lessens his value to the team. What the Cowboys needed was someone who could do a good enough job at tight end to make things work. Last game, he showed us exactly that. If he can just keep it up, and maybe do a wee bit more, then he will be carrying his part of the load.
Kind of like a freight train. Nothing glamorous or flashy, just getting the job done day after day.