After receiving good news about Michael Gallup’s health, what happened to Tyron Smith puts the Dallas Cowboys’ season in jeopardy many days before Week 1.
Smith limped off of the practice field Wednesday. The Cowboys were hopeful that he didn’t suffer an ACL injury. While that turned out to be true, Smith did suffer a significant lower-body injury. The Cowboys announced that Smith suffered a hamstring/knee injury that will require surgery. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and ESPN’s Todd Archer are reporting that a tendon from his hamstring needs to be reattached to his knee. Chances are he won’t be able to return to the lineup until at best December.
Early in Smith’s career, he was the ideal left tackle. During his first five seasons, he only missed one game and made three consecutive All-Pro teams. In 2016, Dak Prescott took over at quarterback for an injured Tony Romo and the Cowboys finished the regular season with their best record since 2007. However, 2016 was the first season in which Smith missed multiple games because of injury.
Since then he has missed at least three games every year, and the past two have been the worst. In 2020, Smith missed all but two games. Combine that with Dak Prescott’s compound ankle fracture, and the Cowboys still finished one game behind Washington for first place in the NFC East — Sunday Night Football’s favorite division — with a 6-10 record.
Last season Smith missed seven games, and the Cowboys were still able to win the NFC East with at 12-5, but lost to the San Francisco 49ers during Wild Card Weekend. Since Troy Aikman’s retirement, the Cowboys have managed to win only two playoff games, and haven’t been to the NFC Championship Game since their 1995 Super Bowl Championship season.
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These current Cowboys are supposed to have all of the tools to make a run. They have dynamic players on both offense and defense, and a better quarterback than most NFL teams, but without Smith, their offensive production decreases in almost every way.
In games that Smith has missed during the past two seasons, the Cowboys’ average yards per pass attempt drops from 7.8 to 7.1, yards per rush falls from 4.8 to 4.1, and their sack percentage jumps from 4.2 to 6.2, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
Dan Orlovsky tweeted out some stats he got from Paul “Hembo” Hembekides. Since 2019, when the Cowboys run to the left side when Smith isn’t healthy their yards per carry on that side drop by more than a yard. Also, in the play-action passing game, Prescott’s QBR falls from 78 to 47.2. The Cowboys’ worst two offense performances last year were games in which he didn’t play. In week 9 they lost 30-16 to the Denver Broncos, and in Week 11 they lost 19-9 to the Kansas City Chiefs.
With a 12-5 record they were still able to win games without Smith, but prior to the first stretch of games that he missed they were 6-1. The Cowboys were a team being discussed as a potential Super Bowl contender.
The NFC still isn’t that strong, and while the Philadelphia Eagles have improved, the Cowboys still hold a massive advantage at quarterback. Before Smith’s injury, I absolutely would’ve picked them over the Eagles to win the NFC East. If the Cowboys make that happen this season it would be the first time that they’ve won consecutive division championships since the 1990s.
They are still a talented team on both sides of the ball, and get to play both the Commanders and the New York Giants twice, and again Prescott is not Jalen Hurts. Still, it can be argued that by going into battle without Smith they won’t have their second-best offensive player. CeeDee Lamb is a blossoming talent at wide receiver, but if Prescott doesn’t feel comfortable in the pocket, that talent is of little help.
Smith missing time has unfortunately been a common problem for the Cowboys, and if they don’t quickly figure out how to deal with it better than they have in past years, it will be another season of disappointment in Big D.