The New York Giants were the 2016 off season champions. Undisputed champs, one might say, as they bolstered their defense through three big money signings. Check that, huge money signings making those newcomers the three highest paid players on the roster, outside of quarterback Eli Manning.
The only player to eclipse Manning's salary, however, was former Miami Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon. Though Vernon only recorded 7.5 sacks last season and has never eclipsed 11.5 sacks over his four year career, expectations are through the roof for what he can bring to the Giants pass rush in 2016.
While his final sack numbers weren't overly impressive, Cowboys fans were made nervous by the Giants' signing of Vernon immediately, remembering the trouble he gave All-Pro Cowboys offensive tackle Tyron Smith during week 11 of last season.
Vernon tallied three quarterback hits, three quarterback hurries, and a sack against Tyron Smith that Sunday, as well as four tackles behind or on the line of scrimmage.
Those numbers may suggest that the normally dominant Smith is in for a long day this Sunday, but the narrative that Vernon absolutely dominated Smith last season is simply false. No, it wasn't his best game by any means, but I am certain that Tyron is up to the challenge and ready to return to his dominant form during this “rematch.”
Where Improvement Is Needed
First and foremost, Tyron Smith has to improve his pad level when going against Olivier Vernon. Time and time again during their match-up last season Vernon was able to get underneath Smith, deliver the blow, and put him on skates.
Here is a perfect example of that poor pad level leading to a bad rep for Smith. Vernon comes off the ball hard, and uses his leverage to beat Smith and drive him into the backfield. Tyron tries to kick step back and re-establish himself, but it is too little too late.
Also of note, I really miss Tony Romo. Moving on.
An even more alarming difficulty Smith had with Vernon on that November day was with his footwork.
Too many times Tyron lost his base, over-set, or just plain got beat because of poor footwork. Here we see Tyron over-set to compensate for Vernon's wide alignment, only to have to try to quickly power down. By the time he gets inside and square, Vernon hits his spin move and makes Smith look silly.
Sure, the field conditions could play a role in the diminishing of his normally great footwork, but either way Smith is going to need to clean that up this week in order for the Cowboys to be successful.
He is more than capable of winning.
Not only is this true of this Sunday's game, but it was also true of their last match up. While the sacks and quarterback hits have become vine famous, plays like this where Tyron Smith not only wins, but dominates, have been lost in the shuffle.
Every problem discussed in this piece was answered on this one play. Tyron gets off the ball great, stays both square and low while kicking back on a 45 degree angle, remains patient, and then buries Vernon when he gets the chance.
These are two of the best in the league at what they do. There will be plays where Vernon wins, and there will be plays where Smith wins. Either way, make sure to take a few plays here and there to forget about the ball for a minute and focus singularly on these two.
It is going to be a dogfight, and I cannot wait to watch it go down.