It’s really intoxicating to think of CeeDee Lamb streaking down the field for a big play touchdown. It’s also thrilling to think of DeMarcus Lawrence and Everson Griffen pinning their eyes back and going after the quarterback. And with a new coaching staff that is expected to get more out of this very-talented team, the sky is the limit for the Dallas Cowboys.
But every team has a kryptonite, and the Cowboys are no different. For years, that Achilles heal was dependent on whether or not Tony Romo was on the field. The Cowboys now have a resilient young quarterback who has never missed a game, as well as one of the best backups in the league in Andy Dalton. If Dak Prescott goes down for a short period of time, the Cowboys are equipped to keep the ball rolling.
Also gone are the days that the defense falls apart without Sean Lee. With two young Pro Bowlers in Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith manning the linebacker group, Lee has been relegated to third man up.
The real issue this team could face that could end up being catastrophic is if suddenly the offensive line couldn’t block for Prescott. We all witnessed this first hand in 2017 when Tyron Smith went down to injury. The Cowboys had just come off of three straight wins where they scored 28+ points in each of them, only to completely fall apart when Smith was out.
In each of these games, the Cowboys offense never reached 10 points. Chaz Green gets most of the blame for this debacle, but Byron Bell was also pretty bad. Bell ultimately ended up playing more snaps at left tackle after Green was benched.
To avoid such a pitiful drubbing, the Cowboys countered in 2018 by investing in a quality swing tackle Cameron Fleming. It worked. For the second straight season, Smith missed three games to injury, but in each instance, the offense was able to keep it together and pull through with the win.
And like clockwork, Smith missed another three games last season, but the results weren’t so favorable this time around.
It should be noted that in the two losses, La’el Collins also missed time with an injury. leaving both Fleming and UDFA Brandon Knight playing the tackle positions.
What can we deduce from all this?
Well, the first thing is that Fleming was worlds better than the Green/Bell combo. In fact, if you removed the games where LC was out too and Fleming was the only reserve, the Cowboys went 4-0 in those games.
This offseason, Fleming’s option was not picked up and he signed with the New York Giants. Instead, the Cowboys felt good about the progress of Knight, but they hedged that bet by also signing Cam Erving for two-thirds the cost. Erving has started 16 more games than Fleming in his career despite playing one fewer season. On the surface, the Erving/Knight duo seems capable to filling in should duty call.
But there are some problems with this that could be problematic for the Cowboys. We don’t have any evidence that proves that these reserves are capable of holding things down, so we have to entertain the possibility of problem no. 1 - both Erving and Knight prove to be huge liabilities.
Knight was serviceable on the right side, what if he struggles on the left? As far as Erving, we haven’t heard a peep about him as he’s dealing with an ailment. Even Knight is being limited in drills due to undisclosed injuries. That leaves the current tackle group depleted in practice which is allowing the defense to feast.
Nobody seems too worried, because it’s still early. Of course, Tyron Smith is dealing with a hamstring injury, and Collins is having a rough go at it as well. While the news is positive regarding his recent car crash, keep in mind that he was working through injury/conditioning prior to that, albeit nothing serious according to head coach Mike McCarthy.
If for any reason the Cowboys get hit with a stroke of bad luck and both their starting tackles are unavailable, that brings us to problem no. 2 - both Erving and Knight starting provides too much weakness on the OLine.
Regardless how things shake out along the interior offensive line, this will already be an area of concern for the Cowboys offense. If you were to add a couple reserve tackles to the mix, that could be disastrous.
Is something like this probable? Not really. The team has to be hit hard with the injury bug for it to happen, but that could be the one unfortunate sequence of events that derails the teams chances of making a deep postseason run.
It’s wonderful to think about how great this offense can be with all those weapons at Prescott’s disposal; however, it will be all for naught if Dak doesn’t have enough protection to get them the ball.