FRISCO, Texas – By every measure within reason, the Cowboys’ offensive line has exceeded expectations, and sometimes even defied logic, throughout 17 regular season games and one postseason victory.
At every turn they’ve weathered various injuries dating back to training camp without ever missing a beat, constantly being rotated, and moved around like an intense game of chess. From Connor McGovern to the future Hall of Famer Tyron Smith, and especially rookie Tyler Smith, they’ve all been asked to pivot on a whim frequently.
That held true again against the Buccaneers on Monday night in the Wild Card round, with the younger Smith having to slide back out to left tackle after Jason Peters left the game with a knee injury. That brought McGovern back to the guard spot after being initially tabbed for a fullback role.
Though it’s Smith who has caught the attention of everyone with not only his play this season, but his ability to be flexible and still maintain a high level of play (i.e., his pancake on Devin White) – all as a rookie.
“It’s just linemen versatility,” Smith said. “All year we’ve kind of been shuffled around so I’ve gotten reps at different positions. I’ve gotten reps in certain games, certain situations where I’ve had to switch… Obviously people going down you never want to see that. But us being able to move around and shift and still be productive and win games, that’s huge.”
The rookie’s innate ability to adjust from one position to another either in-game or in-series has not gone unnoticed either, particularly by his peers.
“Very impressive,” McGovern said. “Not many guys could come into the league and practice all offseason at left guard then all of the sudden get a two-week notice that he’s playing left tackle… Luckily the coaches have us practicing multiple positions, that helps a little bit. But he has the added stress of being a rookie.”
“It was huge of Tyler Smith to go from left guard to left tackle,” Tyler Biadasz said. “And then Connor McGovern coming back in at left guard and having that transition, a smooth transition where there was no decline in any way of switching a position that’s tough… It was a great adjustment by our guys stepping up big and [being] resilient and disciplined.”
But this next challenge that awaits the Cowboys and their offensive line in the Divisional Round against the San Francisco 49ers will be different. For starters, there’s Nick Bosa, perhaps the leader for NFL Defensive Player of the Year with a league-leading 18.5 sacks and to go with 19 tackles for a loss.
“We basically have to gameplan around him a little bit more,” McGovern said of Bosa. “But we faced a lot of great defensive ends and defensive tackles in this league. So, let’s put the target on [Bosa] this week. If that means sliding him a little bit more or changing the game plan up a little bit, but we’ll give him his respect.”
As a whole, the Cowboys will face a 49ers’ defense that was first in points allowed per game, yards allowed per game, interceptions, and second in rushing yards surrendered per game to go along with 44 sacks as a team. Above all else, the physicality that San Francisco brings to the table under defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans with players like Bosa along with linebackers Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw is something the Cowboys will expect.
“It’s definitely going to start up front,” Smith said. “It’ll start with the big guys so that’s going to be the emphasis throughout the week. We know what we got to do… We know what we got to do to get it done.”
That ever-resilient offensive line group for the Cowboys will have their hands full come Sunday, but they have faced challenges already this postseason, let alone the 18 weeks of attrition they battled during the regular season.
“I think it’s just important to focus on what we got to do this week,” Smith said. “Definitely just bottling that up, honing in on that is huge for us. It’s a new game, I fully believe we can play better than we did last week.”
And if there was any talk about the Cowboys being potential underdogs to the team that shut them out of the playoffs a season ago, Smith had just one thing to say: “Let the dogs eat.”