FRISCO, Texas – It might not be for the ideal reasons, but the big guys up front are finally getting their time in the spotlight.
On the offensive side of the ball, at least, it's hard to find a bigger storyline than the Cowboys' banged up offensive line. Injuries have decimated the offensive tackle position, as Tyron Smith has missed two games with neck stingers, while both La'el Collins and Cameron Erving are currently on injured reserve.
"Frankly, how you prepare ... unfortunately sometimes reflects how the game is played," said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy.
Another unfortunate fact is that this is not a new dilemma for this position group. Smith has missed at least three games in each of the last four seasons, while Collins also missed time last year. Even the guard combo of Connor Williams and Zack Martin have dealt with various injuries in the past two seasons.
What makes this season different, though, is the way the Cowboys are handling it. In previous years, it was common simply to see a third tackle – Cam Fleming, Chaz Green or Brandon Knight – step in.
In 2020, the depth of the problem is enough to switch things up entirely. When reserve tackle Terence Steele left the game due to problems with food poisoning, the Cowboys had to break the proverbial emergency glass. After years of talking about his flexibility, they kicked Zack Martin out to right tackle to handle the Seahawks' edge rush. To compensate for the move, they inserted Tyler Biadasz at center and moved Joe Looney to left guard.
"I thought he did very well when he did step out to the right tackle position," McCarthy said.
It's safe to say it worked. The Cowboys racked up 321 yards after halftime and put together scoring drives of 94 yards, 89 yards and 70 yards.
Which prompts the obvious question: how will they play it in Week 4, with a talented Cleveland pass rush led by Myles Garrett coming to town?
"I think really the answer to the question is what we've been through already," McCarthy said. "We've kind of played different combinations. So to answer your question I think we'll continue to work the different combinations."
There's obviously a big variable that could change things completely – the eventual return of Smith to the lineup.
Smith initially left practice during preparations for the Week 2 game against Atlanta, and he has yet to return. McCarthy said Wednesday morning that he'd likely work through individual drills during the afternoon practice, but he was not yet cleared for full contact.
"He's obviously very important to our offense," McCarthy said. "And frankly, just to maybe settle down all of the different rotations of five-man combinations that we've been working."
If Smith can return to action, it'd likely make the decision much easier. The seven-time Pro Bowler can man the left side, allowing either Knight or Steele to handle the right. In a perfect world, McCarthy said he'd prefer to keep Martin at right guard, where he's been named an All-Pro every year of his career.
Most important to McCarthy is that the Cowboys settled into a groove of consistency. Obviously, drastic times call for drastic measures, but McCarthy said stringing together starts from the same five offensive linemen can yield positive results.
"If you look at the statistics of consecutive starts by an offensive line group, the winning percentage is extremely high," he said. "I think the stabilization of your offensive and defensive line is a key component to being successful in this league."
Unfortunately, the Cowboys may still be a way off from that level of consistency. Smith's status is still up in the air, and no one seems to know when Collins might return from injured reserve.
But to this point, they've shown remarkable resiliency in adapting to their problems. It figures to serve as a benefit when the offensive line rounds into better shape.
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