FRISCO, Texas – It's been a challenging stretch for the Cowboys' offensive line, to say the least.
Seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith returned to game action on Thanksgiving after missing three games with an ankle injury. But Thursday night against the Saints, the line will be without right tackle Terence Steele and both offensive line coaches, Joe Philbin and Jeff Blasko, due to COVID-19 protocols.
In what promises to be a raucous environment inside the New Orleans Superdome, Smith said communication -- even "overcommunication"-- will be key for the offense against the Saints' talented defensive front.
"It's a matter of us having a good plan for the week leading up to the game and making sure everybody's on the same page before we even get there," Smith said. "Overcommunication is never a bad thing. We've got to make sure everybody's on the same page."
Crowd noise was a factor in the offensive line's problems at Arrowhead Stadium in the 19-9 loss to the Chiefs, and the Cowboys expect a similar environment Thursday. The Superdome is annually one of the league's loudest venues.
But as quarterback Dak Prescott said, "when you go into an atmosphere like this, it's going to be a heavyweight challenge regardless."
"For the offense it's about communication, us being sound and us being on the same page in our non-verbal communication and to not allow the crowd noise to become a problem and affect us as far as our execution," he said.
The offensive line has seen multiple changes to the starting five in recent weeks. La'el Collins and Steele have rotated starts in recent weeks, but Collins is expected to step in Thursday. Connor McGovern has replaced Connor Williams at left guard for the last two games.
The return of Smith, the longest-tenured player on offense, adds stability. Back from injury, he said his ankle feels "good enough to continue going, so we're all good."
"I took as much time as I could to get this ankle right," he said. "I was trying to be patient as much as possible to try to hurry up and get back."
Head coach Mike McCarthy, who is out this week due to COVID protocol, has said tight ends coach Lunda Wells can help work with the offensive line this week, filling in for Philbin and Blasko.
And Smith said the line has "the right guys in the room" to handle this situation.
Control what they can control. That's their message every week -- and particularly a week like this one.