It’s official. The Dallas Cowboys have lost All-Pro offensive tackle Tyron Smith for the rest of the season as he is getting neck surgery, hopefully to return next season. That has been met with a lot of dismay among fans. The team was already missing their other starting tackle, La’el Collins, and the guy they expected to be the swing tackle this year in Cameron Erving. That was on the heels of losing Travis Frederick to retirement in the offseason. How can the team possibly come up with a way to finish the season with the patchwork offensive line they have?
Well, quit your whining. This is the NFL, injuries happen and the games go on. Smith is one of the best tackles in the league - when healthy. His loss is certainly significant, but it is possible for teams to overcome a rash of injuries at key positions. If you want evidence, just go look at the injury history of the Green Bay Packers when they won their most recent championship. And then check who the head coach was.
So now the team has to figure out who to field as the offensive line. Don’t forget they are also dealing with Joe Looney being injured as well, so the problems extend to the interior of the line, too.
The conservative approach
While Mike McCarthy was not exactly giving away the plan, which is likely still evolving, he did indicate that there is a decent possibility of using a lineup they have trotted out before:
LT Brandon Knight, LG Connor Williams, C Tyler Biadasz, RG Zack Martin, RT Terence Steele
This offers the most continuity, and McCarthy said positive things about Steele’s attitude and progress this week. However, Steele is the obvious weak link. The coaches would have to make provisions to give him some help. And Dak Prescott is a key here. He has to be aware of not having as much time as he might want, and needs to be ready to get the ball out quickly when required. His mobility and competence at throwing on the move are assets as well.
One thing to note is that we all should be very grateful the team spent a pick on Biadasz. He is the one player that seems locked in, no matter how they shift others around.
It’s also worth mentioning that the New York Giants on Sunday don’t have an exceptionally strong pass rush, with 10 sacks so far. That is not terrible, of course, but this is not as strong a defense as some they have faced. There is no Aaron Donald or Myles Garrett to contend with.
Best player approach
LT Knight, LG Williams, C Biadasz, RG Connor McGovern, RT Martin
Martin filled in at RT in the Seattle Seahawks game, and looked like he had been playing there for a couple of years. This involves a tradeoff, since McGovern is a largely unknown quantity, and clearly a downgrade from the perennial Pro Bowler. But RT is more crucial than RG, and this should be a good net gain in effectiveness.
There is, however, a hidden problem with this lineup. With Looney out, it leaves the team with no backups at guard or center. The team has some options at OT, having recently added Greg Senat, and there are three OTs on the practice squad that can be called up - four if Isaac Alarcón, the International Player Pathway member could also be used. I am still confused about his real availability under that program, so for now I am not really counting him. Perhaps they have been working one or more of these players at guard and could plug them in as the backup for game day. That is unknown, and risky to boot.
This is the apparent reason they are bringing back Adam Redmond, who can backup all three interior line positions. He will provide badly needed depth. However, he will not be available this week, so for now moving Martin to tackle seems unlikely. Any injury to the three guys to his left would force him to move back inside and bring Steele back into the equation.
There have been some other suggestions, like Williams going back to his very successful college position of LT. Obviously that has the same issues as Martin, as well as locking the latter in at guard.
The equation is going to change as Redmond comes on board and Looney hopefully will come back soon. None of that is available at the moment. Right now, the shortage of qualified interior linemen seems to be pushing the team to putting Steele back in the lineup, having another player as the swing tackle, and keeping McGovern as their depth in the interior. The only other way to go would be to flip Steele and Senat, which also seems unlikely given Steele’s experience. Limited as it is, it is more with this team than Senat has. There is also the possibility that they put Cam Erving into the mix if he comes off injured reserve this weekend, but for now that is an unknown.