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Cowboys OL depth already being tested, playing in space is key in matchup at Giants

The Cowboys have injury concerns with both Tyler and Tyron Smith on the left side, but hope to have their starting line ready for Sunday night. If they don’t it may alter an advantage they would normally have.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Coming out of training camp and the preseason, the Cowboys offensive line depth was one of the only major areas of concern for a team loaded with veterans and rising recent draft picks at most other position. With the team’s view now firmly on their primetime debut at the Giants this Sunday, the expected starting lineup of Tyron Smith at left tackle and Tyler Smith at left guard has come into question with both players appearing on the final injury report.

For Tyler Smith, this was just another update in a week long recovery from a hamstring injury. His listed as doubtful for the game, although the Cowboys themselves have been giving hopeful signals. Tyron’s appearance on the injury list is considered minor, but comes at the inopportune time as the Cowboys were hopeful to start the veteran’s 12th season with a clean bill of health. Smith has not played a full regular season since 2015, so even a minor ankle injury ahead of his first game becomes more significant.

If the Cowboys are able to start both Smith’s on the left side, they’ll do so with Tyler Biadasz, Zack Martin, and Terence Steele rounding out the starting five from left to right. Though the Cowboys have shuffled offensive line coaches, philosophies, and personnel in the backfield they block/protect for, a constant in Dallas has been the athleticism to play in space from this unit. Should all five players listed above start at the Giants, the Cowboys can get back to this in a way they couldn’t last year, mainly with Tyler Smith having to play his collegiate position of left tackle. His flashes at left guard showed a player that easily seeks out second- and third-level defenders with balance and power to spring big plays on the ground.

At his best, Tyron Smith has also been great on the move at left tackle, but returned to the lineup late last season to play on the right side instead. Now, the Cowboys have a healthy Terence Steele returning at right tackle, another agile and technical player in the run game.

The Cowboys maximizing the mobility of their front five not only comes at the same time as Tony Pollard’s promotion to RB1, a lead back that runs best outside the tackles and cuts decisively off pulling blocks for big gains, but also is an important key to watch for on Sunday night. The Giants defense with Leonard Williams, A’Shawn Robinson, and Dexter Lawrence on the interior can make running between the tackles difficult, but the Cowboys can find space against linebackers Micah McFadden and Bobby Okereke. McFadden started just seven games for the Giants last year while Okereke is in his first year with the team after four with the Colts. New York also brought in hybrid player Isaiah Simmons, who is better in pass rush and coverage than run defense.

Not knowing how many games they’ll get out of the projected starting five for Sunday, the attrition of a 17-game season is likely to call on Asim Richards, Chuma Edoga, or T.J. Bass at some point. The Cowboys need to take full advantage of a healthy line while they can, especially opening with a divisional game against a playoff team from 2022. The Cowboys have never won a season opener under Mike McCarthy, and poor offensive line play is one of the fastest ways for any team to have their season go south, something McCarthy certainly can’t afford for his future in Dallas. Sunday night would be an ideal time for the Cowboys to snap this streak, leaning on a more positive streak QB Dak Prescott has against the Giants, by letting their offensive line get out and take this game physically to Wink Martindale’s defense.

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