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Cowboys point/counterpoint: Handling the return of La’el Collins

The Cowboys have to figure out what to do with returning tackle La’el Collins.

NFL: DEC 22 Cowboys at Eagles Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When the five game suspension of La’el Collins was announced, there was despair and anguish for fans of the Dallas Cowboys. With Ty Nsekhe, the presumptive swing tackle, also ailing, that meant Terence Steele would be forced into action at right tackle. There was a fair amount of PTSD after the way he struggled in 2020, especially early in the season.

Well, all they have done with Steele starting is string six wins together. That even includes the feel-good Cooper Rush story in the absence of Dak Prescott against the Minnesota Vikings. Collins returned from suspension in that game, but Steele kept the starting job and Collins was only seen in the intriguing Hulk package, lined up next to Connor McGovern in the backfield.

Things got more complicated in that game, however. Tyron Smith had to leave with what has been reported as an ankle/bone spur issue. Nsekhe came in, but was more in the category of surviving at left tackle than thriving. Now the Cowboys will have to make some adjustments for the game against the Denver Broncos if Smith can’t go. But just what? Our Terence Watson and Tom Ryle dissect things.

Terence: The goal for this Dallas Cowboys coaching staff needs to be putting the best players on the field that give you the best chance to win the game. Nsekhe just looks out of place when he’s on the field with the rest of the Cowboys offensive line. He can’t seem to handle the bull rush now, and speed rushers have always given him problems in the past. So this should be a very easy choice for the Cowboys, put Collins in the game if Tyron Smith can’t go. The real question now becomes do you mess with the chemistry on the right side that Zack Martin and Steele have been able to establish by plugging Collins back in at right tackle and swinging Steele to the left side with Connor Williams.

If it were my choice I wouldn’t mess with a good thing and instead slide Collins in at left tackle giving the Cowboys two bullies on the edge to help in the running game. The team they are facing is susceptible to the run and now with Von Miller gone any consistent threat of a pass rush left with him. The Cowboys may want to play games like they did last week against the Vikings, but behind closed doors this decision should have already been made.

Tom: I can see them having a tentative plan at this point, but I think they will be open to seeing how things play out in practice before making the final call. And I would not be at all surprised if we don’t know the decision until the first time the Cowboys line up on offense.

As for chemistry, I have no worries about Collins and Martin, because in the one game they were together, things were good against a very good defense. My concern is protecting Prescott’s blind side, although Kellen Moore has been very good at using scheme and play calls to help things. I would suspect that Steele has more time working at LT over the offseason than Collins. No, that is not a suspicion, it is a given. Collins was RT all the way, and that is where I see him plugging in. Expect to see a lot of sets with one or even two TEs on the left to help Steele out. And the running game is going to be bigger this week since the Broncos cannot focus on stopping that the way the Vikings did. Unless they want to see Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard shred them, that is.

But we are busy arguing about what to do if Smith, as expected, does not play. What if he surprises us all and gives it a go? Should the staff stick with Steele another week, or is it time to put Collins back in as the starter?

Terence: Right now I’m going off of the assumption that Smith will not play this week. I get the familiarity aspect when it comes to Collins sliding back in at right tackle, the reason I could and would like to see him slide over to the left side is more so because of Williams. We know that Steele has done a great job on that right side and you have to believe a lot of that is due to him playing next to Martin's presence beside him. Moving him over to Williams' side to me seems like more of a question mark in terms of how well they will be able to play off of each other.

Maybe they slide Williams to the left tackle position since he played it in college and kick Collins inside. I might be okay with that as well as long as they are keeping a tight end over on that side to help him on obvious passing downs.

Again, as you said, if Smith does happen to play this week then I have kicked around the idea in my head to have Steele continue playing at right tackle and moving Collins to left guard. I’m starting to get tired of all of the holding calls on Williams.

Tom: Well, if Smith is able to go, I am torn on this one as well, although I foresee zero chance of moving Williams outside. I like the idea of not messing with what got you here and keeping Steele in, but I also would have trepidations about relying on Smith to last the whole game. If the staff gets Collins some work at LT with an eye on him being the primary swing tackle this week, then I might roll that way. However, I do think Steele is better prepared for that swing role, and if they elect to give Smith a try, I think that would be the time to give Collins the starting job back.

Unlike last week, I will say that I relish the idea of not knowing for sure, because that means the Broncos won’t either, and have to consider having some different game plans to choose from. That increases their degree of difficulty at least a little, and that is good for Dallas. I am starting to love me some Mike “Dr. Evil” McCarthy.