ARLINGTON, Texas — It appeared from the outside that the Cowboys chose their Thanksgiving game against the Las Vegas Raiders to do some experimenting along the offensive line. Whether those decisions were all made coming into the week or some of them were in-game decisions, one can imagine that offensive line coach Joe Philbin entering the COVID-19 protocol the day of the game likely did not make implementing those changes any easier.
Dallas began the game with a change to their offensive line which was already being bolstered by the return of Tyron Smith. Surprisingly, though, Terence Steele, who had been starting for Smith at left tackle, was moved to the starting right tackle position, replacing La'el Collins. This was an unexpected move with unclear motivations. Steele, who has had an eventful season thus far, started for Collins earlier in the season while Collins served a five-game suspension, and by all accounts did a serviceable job. When Collins returned and Smith went out with an ankle injury Steele moved to left tackle to replace Smith for multiple games, where he struggled more than he had at right tackle.
It was presumed by most that, if both healthy, Smith and Collins would be the starting tackles. But Steele said after the game that he knew coming into Thursday that he would be moving to right tackle.
"From the beginning of the work week that's where I was going, right tackle," Steele confirmed. "I knew from the beginning."
All of this came only a week after Connor McGovern had replaced Connor Williams at left guard. But if Collins sitting on the bench to start the game was a head scratcher to fans, the confusion only picked up on the third drive of the game when they inserted Collins into the game for Steele at right tackle and Williams into the game for McGovern at left guard despite the offense having scored a touchdown on the previous drive. It appeared the Cowboys were implementing some type of offensive-line-by-committee rotation.
A few drives later Steele and McGovern were back in at their starting positions. Steele did not clarify things after the game.
"I don't know the full reason why," Steele said of why he and McGovern were subbed out and then subbed back in. "They just threw them in there."
Zack Martin said after the game that the in-game rotation was something they knew was coming.
"They had told us over the last couple days they were going to give those guys a series," Martin said. "I think those guys have earned the right to get those snaps."
The Cowboys' offense mostly struggled in the early stages of the game, but did establish a rhythm by the fourth quarter. Still, Steele said that not having Philbin, who was placed in COVID-19 protocol the day of the game, on the sideline was a disadvantage.
"Of course," Steele said of missing Philbin. "That's our o-line coach. We love Philbin. [Assistant O-line coach Jeff] Blasko did a good job filling in. He was missed for sure."
Martin was more direct with his assessment of himself and his peers.
"We've got to clean it up," Martin said. "We're playing sloppy ball. We have to play better up front as a unit. Especially in the run game. We have to get our identity back."