FRISCO, Texas – The bye week is always a natural stopping point to take stock of what has happened in a season.
In a season with so many "what if" scenarios, there are a million different directions the Dallas Cowboys can take that evaluation. But one consistent topic of the week has been the play of Jaylon Smith over the first half of the season.
"We don't have a player out there that doesn't have things that he doesn't want to improve on and can be better," said Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones. "But, boy, I'm glad we got him. He's one of our cornerstones and he'll get better and better and better."
Smith's level of play has been a hot button issue, to put it mildly, and Jones' quote encapsulates the point. A simple glance at the stats will tell you that his 89 tackles leads the team and is currently second-best in the entire NFL. And obviously, his $68 million contract makes him one of the more crucial figures on the Dallas defense.
At the same time, some simple tape review confirms that it's been a bumpy season for Smith. The 2019 Pro Bowler has struggled with assignments and tackling at times. During Sundays' inspired effort against Pittsburgh, he was hit with two crucial penalties that – while perhaps dubious – helped swing the outcome of the game.
Still, for all the criticism Smith has taken from fans and media – largely due to his contract, no doubt – he does seem to have the support of the people who matter.
"I think Jaylon has had some very good games," said defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. "He's had some games where, I'm sure, he would like some plays back. But I would say he has played well for the most part."
To be fair to Smith, the season is essentially just half over. As atrocious as the Cowboys' defense has looked at times this season, they're currently riding on two solid performances, including an inspired effort to shut down the Steelers' run game last week.
In his praise for Smith, Jones was sure to mention the differences in Nolan's scheme and how that transition may have affected the early part of the season.
"Remember, those guys have to sit there as we two-gap those interior down linemen and they're deciding which way they're going to go rather than just go one way quickly in a one gap," he said. "Then, that linebacker has to read which way he goes and go the other way for the most part. That takes a little time. It's what you're seeing get used to. It will get better."
It's one of many storylines to watch in the second half of the season. But sitting at the midpoint, the Cowboys seem to have full faith in their star linebacker.
"I'm glad we got Jaylon Smith, and I'm glad we got him for sure on the basis that we got him," Jones said. "He really has so much that he brings to our defense."