The way the season had gone thus far, the Cowboys had probably started to feel pretty confident in their ability to weather injuries or unavailable players along the offensive line. During their loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday they learned a lesson that might seem obvious in retrospect: Replacing Tyron Smith is easier said than done.
Smith missed Sunday's game with a bone spur issue in his ankle, which Mike McCartthy and the Cowboys have said that they don't believe to be a long-term concern. Earlier in the season Terence Steele had filled in admirably for La'el Collins at right tackle while Collins served a multi-game suspension. With Collins back in the lineup, asking Steele to now fill in for Smith at left tackle seemed to be an intuitive decision. Unfortunately, Steele struggled at the position along with the entire offense.
While Dak Prescott was officially only sacked twice, he was facing pressure for the majority of the game. His elusiveness allowed him to avoid multiple sacks, but the pressure ultimately prevented him from moving the ball downfield with any consistency. The Cowboys managed only 18:48 of the time of possession in a home game.
After the game, Steele admitted that replacing Smith in the lineup was a taller task than expected.
"I would say it was a little harder than I thought it would be," Steele said. "They have a good defense, good D-ends, and they were giving me a challenge."
Collins, for his part, said that it "felt good" to be back in the starting lineup, but that the entire unit has a lot to do if Prescott is going to be able to get back into the rhythm that had him looking like an MVP candidate just a few weeks ago.
"[We've] got to do a better job protecting him and giving him a clean pocket," Collins said. "We have to do what we need to do."
Smith's status next week against the Falcons likely won't be determined until later in the week, so the Cowboys' coaching staff will have to figure out if they need to make an adjustment to the starting lineup. Steele claims that he is ready for any possibility in order to improve.
"Whatever they ask me, I'm going to give my best, work my butt off and be the best Cowboys o-linemen I can be," Collins said.
It is surely a game that Cowboy fans will want to forget, but Steele says the offense, and the offensive line needs to figure out exactly what went wrong. When asked if it was the type of disastrous game where it's more beneficial to "burn" the film, he said they would be watching the tape meticulously.
"[We have to] 100 percent study the film," Steele said. "You don't burn this. You learn from this. Get [to practice], watch film, watch the mistakes and learn from it. You don't burn it."