Dallas enters Week 2 of the season already looking to backup plans at several key positions. Watching linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and tight end Blake Jarwin get helped off the field in the season opener was bad enough. But news that left tackle Tyron Smith missed Thursday’s practice with some sort of neck issue brings a whole different sense of doom and gloom over Cowboys Nation.
Coach Mike McCarthy wasn’t ready to hit the panic button quite yet, but he knows the readiness of his seven-time Pro Bowl lineman is something that will be monitored closely as Sunday’s kickoff versus the Falcons approaches.
In fact, despite the more obvious holes in the Cowboys lineup, he admits that offensive line is his biggest concern right now.
“Going into the game, I would say yes,” McCarthy told 105.3 The Fan on Friday morning. “Every season, it’s on that list of firsts. You have your first game, you have your first road game, you have your first different types of situations: two-minute drills at the end of the half and end of the game. You go through this all the time, especially in Year One. But this is our first time- experience- with a player, maybe two, that may or may not play come Sunday. It’s part of being a good team, so you have to work through these things. We need everybody; that’s always been my approach as a head coach.”
A player… that may or may not play come Sunday.
That’s a scary thought, particularly for Cowboys fans who recall what happened the last time Smith didn’t suit up against Atlanta. Quarterback Dak Prescott is likely still having middle-of-the-night flashbacks to the six sacks Smith’s replacement allowed that day.
“We’ll see how Tyron is,” McCarthy concluded. “I’m not alarmed right now, but it’s something that we’re looking at.”
That dreadful Falcons tilt took place in Atlanta in 2017. This time, the two teams will meet in Arlington. So the Cowboys will at least have home cooking on their side.
Or will they? Much has been made of home-field advantage in 2020, with most stadiums devoid of fans on opening weekend. The Cowboys will buck that trend on Sunday, allowing AT&T Stadium to be at approximately 25% capacity.
Between piped-in crowd noise and the natural up-close intensity of professional football players trying to beat the tar out of each other, many have argued that empty venues are only strange to fans watching at home, that the players are too locked in to care.
But McCarthy noticed a difference this past weekend in Los Angeles. And he believes it will be good for the Cowboys to play in front of Cowboys fans, even if it’s fewer than usual.
“I would think so. Without a doubt, just going off the experience of last week,” McCarthy confessed. “The fans are such a huge part of the game: just the gameday environment, the enthusiasm, and everything that goes into it. The players really feed off of that. You’ve just got to ‘make your own music’ is the way we’ve talked about it. It’s the way we’ll approach it. I think it will definitely help.”
Of course, a strong showing from the offense will help encourage the fans in attendance to make a little more of their own music. The much-ballyhooed debut of Team Fortyburger never got out of first gear on Sunday night, putting up a pedestrian 17 points.
Many pundits in the days since have pointed to a lack of pre-snap motion in coordinator Kellen Moore’s offensive game plan. When ranked by how much motion each team used in Week 1, the top half of the league went 13-3; the bottom half- where Dallas sat- combined for a 3-13 mark.
McCarthy appreciates the numbers, but emphasizes that it was just one game.
“You have to be honest about statistics. There’s a place for them. But it’s Week 1. To think that Kellen was able to call everything on his call sheet that he may have anticipated going into the game, that’s just not how it works. Shift and motion, you’ll see that in our game plans each week, and how much we use will depend on the flow of the game.”
The flow of the game, certainly on offense, could change dramatically depending on whether No. 77 is on the field for the Cowboys.