ARLINGTON, Texas – The Cowboys' 27-7 loss to the Falcons a week ago served as glaring reminder of how important Tyron Smith is to the Cowboys' success. In that game, quarterback Dak Prescott was sacked an astonishing eight times.
They managed to cut that number in half Sunday night against the Eagles, but it was still apparent that they were missing their All-Pro left tackle in a 37-9 loss. The relative improvement at left tackle was the result of a switch in the starting lineup from Chaz Green to Byron Bell.
Bell is a seven-year veteran playing on his third NFL team. He missed all of the 2016 season with a dislocated ankle, but after Green's disastrous start in Atlanta, it was clear that Bell would be called upon if Smith were unavailable. Leading up to the Sunday's game defensive lineman DeMarcus Lawrence made a point of noting that Bell would "be ready."
Although Smith officially was listed as questionable until just before kickoff, Bell practiced with the first-team offense all week. After the game, Jason Garrett admitted the team expected Bell to start.
"(Smith) probably wasn't that close to playing," Garrett said after the loss.
Bell and the rest of the offensive line performed admirably for the first half of the game. The Cowboys ran the ball well against perhaps the league's best run defense. Bell did not look particularly overmatched during the first two quarters.
"It felt good," Bell said about getting the start. "You know, the last time I played a football game was 2015. I felt good and blessed to be back out there. I just have to continue to work on my fundamentals and techniques and I'll be fine."
In the second half, though, nothing went right for the Cowboys, and the offensive line certainly doesn't escape blame. While the Cowboys turned to the passing game to try to make up a deficit, they simply couldn't protect Prescott. Bell, in particular, allowed Nigel Bradham to get by him and strip Prescott in the fourth quarter. The fumble was recovered and run back for an Eagles touchdown.
"I got to play better," Bell said after the game. "I gave up a crucial hit. I take full ownership for that."
Perhaps the most significant question is whether or not the Cowboys will need Bell to get better. If Smith wasn't "close" to playing on Sunday night, what are the chances that he'll be available on a short turnaround for Thursday's Thanksgiving Day game against the Chargers?
San Diego will bring arguably the best pass-rushing duo in the league in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. They'll also be coming off a victory against Buffalo in which the Chargers' defense intercepted five passes and scored two defensive touchdowns.
It's fair to say having Smith available could be crucial.[embeddedad0]
"Guys get hurt," Garrett said after the game. "You just have to keep moving on and we haven't done a good enough job of that at this point over the last couple weeks."
Simply put, Bell was the best option the Cowboys had at left tackle Sunday night. Will Dallas be able to rely on him moving forward? Will they have to?
To his credit, Bell isn't panicking about the Cowboys' losing streak.
"I've been in this situation before on previous teams," Bell said. "I've seen the turnarounds. Trust me, we are not out of it by a long shot."