Its time for another edition of #PlayoffPrimer, and after looking at the Cowboys running backs and wide receivers, we’ll move on to part of the best unit in the National Football League – Dallas’ offensive line.
Specifically, we’ll look at the tackle position, where I already wrote that the Dallas Cowboys may have found some solid depth with Emmett Cleary. The presumed starters in the playoffs though will be Tyron Smith and Doug Free.
You couldn’t ask for a better starter at left tackle in the playoffs than Tyron Smith. The best LT in the league, Smith should be healthy for the Divisional Round after missing the second-half of the Lions game and all of week 17 against the Eagles.
A healthy Tyron Smith absolutely takes opposing teams’ right defensive ends out of the game, and the Cowboys could see a few talented ones in Olivier Vernon, Cliff Avril, and Ezekiel Ansah throughout the playoffs.
If you buy into narratives, some will tell you that Vernon – the Giants’ premier free agent signing and edge rusher – has been the only defender to give Smith consistent trouble, but a closer look at the tape has shown that Tyron holds his own against not only Olivier Vernon but any rusher in the NFL – often times dominating the match up enough to get called for a few phantom holding calls.
Turn on the TV before the Cowboys kickoff this postseason, watch the offense come out onto the field, take note of #77 starting on the far-left side of the line – and then forget about him for the rest of the game.
I’m here to tell you that Doug Free is actually good at football. While many in Cowboys Nation disagree, Free is asked to stand out among first round picks like Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin. While he’s far from as dominant as these other starters, Free is still an above-average player that does his job well on a consistent basis.
Defensive coordinators charged with the task of game planning against the Cowboys’ great wall know that attacking Smith at LT is a lost cause, and they scheme their best defensive ends to attack Free – who consistently holds his own.
Like Tyron Smith, Doug Free will face tough match ups in the playoffs, but should be up for the challenge – sensing that his time in Dallas may be up well before the rest of this offensive line.
Thanks to this line, the Cowboys could be looking at a long stretch of dominance in the NFC, but Free’s focus needs to be on putting together his best three games to raise the Lombardi Trophy with his teammates in Houston.
Free’s primary focus in this regard should be on limiting penalties, as the entirety of the Dallas offense has shot themselves in the foot far too often over the final quarter of this season with untimely flags.
As mentioned, I already broke down Cleary’s game in the above post. To summarize, while you certainly want Tyron Smith taking every snap the rest of the way out at left tackle for Dallas, I would feel relatively comfortable with Cleary in an emergency situation.
The journeyman lineman made the most of the playing time he received over the past two weeks, and now will enter the playoffs with the Cowboys confident in his ability to be their only real backup option at tackle.
If he plays like he did throughout the Eagles game, Cleary could become an unsung hero should the unthinkable happen and Tyron Smith exits a playoff game due to injury.
My Playoff Primer series will continue up until the Divisional Playoffs, and we’ll round out the offensive line by looking at the interior players next.