IRVING, Texas – A big-time matchup has to be on the horizon to draw commentary from Tyron Smith.
Smith is one of the Cowboys' biggest, most-imposing players, but he maintains as quiet a locker room presence as any player on the roster. Considering who he'll line up against on Sunday, that wasn't going to be an option this week.
With the loss of Colts' pass rusher Robert Mathis for the entire 2014 season, Rams defensive end Robert Quinn is the NFL's returning sack leader from 2013. While Smith erased pass rushers during the latter half of last season, Quinn racked up 19 sacks.
"You know what type of player he is," Smith said. "It's not going to be easy, so you're just kind of working hard for it."
Both Quinn and Smith – taken three picks apart from each other in the 2011 NFL Draft – earned their first Pro Bowl selections after breakout campaigns in 2013.
"He's a young, athletic tackle -- I happen to be the same draft class," Quinn said. "It's definitely going to be a nice little athleticism matchup."
Smith got the upper hand in last year's matchup, which resulted in a 31-7 win for the Cowboys. Working against Smith, Quinn was limited to four tackles and a tackle for loss, but he was held without a sack – one of just five games where he didn't register one.
That game, which was also Week 3, doesn't factor into Smith's preparations, however.
"You can't look too much on it," he said. "Everybody changes every year and everybody improves every year, so you kind of go off that mindset."
The Cowboys have every reason to fear a sack artist like Quinn, considering their struggles against pass rushers this year. Last week, Jurrell Casey led the Titans to four sacks of Tony Romo, and the 49ers had three in Week 1. Even in the preseason, the Dolphins had three first-half sacks – something Smith said the line needs to continue to work on.
"First couple of games, you're just trying to get everything going, and as a group, we know we've got to get better and improve as a group, day-by-day," he said. [embedded_ad]
Fortunately for the offense, whatever struggles might have occurred in pass protection haven't mattered to the run game. DeMarco Murray leads the league in rushing, which should be a valuable safety net against a team currently 30th in the league in rush defense.
"He's definitely a talented back," Quinn said. "But at the same time, we want to keep him within the box so our big guys and our 'backers and sometimes safeties can get downhill and just keep him to as minimal yardage as possible."
Smith said he's been encouraged by the line's performance in the first two weeks, highlighted by Murray's dominant day in Tennessee. He also added that it's still early – figuratively and literally for this offensive line.
"It's a good feeling that we're doing what we're doing," he said. "As I said, we're just taking it day-by-day, but we've got certain goals for ourselves this year that we're trying to reach."