Granted, Jaylon Smith was not the impact player he was expected to be last season, but do you think the criticism has been overly harsh since he still led the team in tackles? — FRED LONDON / MORRISTOWN, TN
David: Not really, to be honest. Ezekiel Elliott led the team in rushing yards, too. It doesn't mean he had a great season. I'm a lot less interested in pure volume stats and a lot more interested in how they came about. If half of Jaylon's tackles came 8-10 yards down the field, were those tackles worth getting excited about? That said, I do think that the criticism of Jaylon has jumped the shark a little bit. We all know he's heading into a make-or-break year, but he has become a bit of a punching bag. At the same time, fair criticism of one of the team's highest-paid defenders is valid and totally understandable.
Rob: When we say there's more to rushing the passer than sacks, well, there's more to playing linebacker than tackles. So I don't think that can be the sole measure. However, the scheme and the Cowboys' injuries/struggles up front last year didn't do Jaylon or the linebackers many favors, either. They've taken steps to get better there, and it seems like Dan Quinn is very committed to putting players in the right spots to be successful. That should help Jaylon even if he's not playing almost 100% of snaps like before.
I saw on "Hard Knocks," where Coach McCarthy and Stephen Jones were talking about Zeke and his lifetime carries, got me wondering. In the past Zeke has not played in the preseason at all (that I remember) and has had some slow starts at the beginning of the regular season. So is there a correlation between the two? — BRYAN SCOTT / RED LION, PA
David: It's theoretically possible, although I would point out that Zeke did play in the preseason as a rookie and still struggled out of the gate. For me, it's just about risk versus reward. It's unfortunate if Zeke needs a week or two to get things going, but that's a heck of a lot better than losing him for an extended period of time during a meaningless game. I'm not saying you're wrong, but I just don't see it as a big enough problem to take too much risk.
Rob: Last year was obviously a tough season by Zeke's standards, but I wouldn't say slow starts have been a trend his entire career. In 2017 he was dealing with the league suspension and last year the pandemic was a factor in everybody's preparation. As McCarthy said on the show, he's come into camp in terrific shape. And I do think it's important to monitor a running back's preseason work. The Cowboys did the same thing with Emmitt Smith back in the day and they've actually done that with Zeke going back to his rookie year.