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Cowboys have some decisions to tackle

Even with the Cowboys top three offensive tackles sidelined, it turned out pretty well. That may have some longer-term implications.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Dallas Cowboys
Brandon Knight was there at the finish, which is fitting after his job the whole game.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The injury news about the Dallas Cowboys has included some unwelcome developments. The concern is that left tackle Tyron Smith may need a bit longer to recover sufficiently from his neck injury, making him unavailable for the trip to play the Seattle Seahawks. It’s also looking like his counterpart at right tackle, La’el Collins, may not be ready to return from IR in Week 4 as was hoped. Meanwhile, their planned backup as swing tackle, Cameron Erving, is also on IR, and there has been no reports about how he is progressing. It is an absolutely disastrous situation.

Except, well, it wasn’t last game. You know, that miracle, record-setting comeback against the Atlanta Falcons? The Cowboys desperately needed some pass protection from second-year tackle Brandon Knight and rookie Terence Steele - both coming to the team as UDFA signings. And they provided it, with Dak Prescott only getting sacked once early in the game and facing relatively light pressure to the tune of only four QB hits. Obviously, the run game didn’t suffer much from their presence either, as Dallas racked up 125 yards in a game where they nearly abandoned running for much of the way. And lest you think this is entirely due to Prescott’s own maneuverability and ability to get rid of the ball, you might want to look at this.

Now, that is hardly evidence that Knight is the player a healthy Smith is, but it does speak to how he may not be nearly the dropoff we all thought. Steele had more struggles, as should only be expected from a rookie, including a couple of holding calls against him. But the end results still were incredibly pleasing. And Steele has been at RT in both games, gaining experience while still doing a decent job. In the first game of the season, Prescott was under more pressure, but that was largely to the sack and four QB hits from Aaron Donald, the best interior defensive lineman in the business.

Suddenly, the idea of Smith and Collins being a bit longer getting back on the field is not nearly as depressing. Frankly, in recent years, the team seemed to rush Smith back when he was hurt, because they had little faith in their swing tackle. After all, the burning of Chaz Green and Byron Bell in Atlanta was not that long ago.

Of course, the offensive staff outside of Kellen Moore has changed since last year. Heck, Moore was still on the roster in 2017, albeit on the practice squad for most of the season. You can be sure that disaster in Georgia was still brought up with the tackle situation leading up to the game last Sunday.

So there is a lot less pressure this week to get Smith back on the field, and probably less of a rush to have Collins come off IR. As David Howman pointed out in an earlier post, the Seahawks pass defense is a lot like the Falcons’ - just a hair worse. They are much better against the run, which could lead to Dallas leaning even more on the pass. That is probably a good thing, come to think about it.

While getting both Smith and Collins back at full health is desirable, patience is now much more feasible than we would have guessed. Given how Knight and Steele have stepped up to the challenge, Erving may not even be with the team much longer. Knight especially seems to have made himself a candidate to be the swing tackle, and Steele looks like excellent insurance beyond that. That may seem harsh for Erving, but he has $2 million in guaranteed money to comfort him, and would likely not need long to find another job as injuries continue to pile up across the league.

The decisions are coming, but quite unexpectedly the Cowboys have found some viable new options to use. Depth is always important, and may be even more so this season. In Knight and Steele, Dallas may just have found something.