The Dallas Cowboys offense was not at full strength for their season opener at the Buccaneers, and won't be for the weeks to come after losing Michael Gallup to injury and La'el Collins suspended for five games. Collins' suspension prolongs the Cowboys from playing him at the same time as Tyron Smith and Zack Martin even longer.
Without Martin on Thursday night, the Cowboys still threw the ball 58 times in Dak Prescott's return. Connor McGovern started at right guard, but a Tampa Bay defense that won the Super Bowl by getting after Patrick Mahomes at will couldn't do the same to Dallas.
Martin is expected back from the COVID list against the Chargers next Sunday, but McGovern may still be needed. Should the Cowboys feel good about his performance against a talented Bucs defensive interior, their “best five” up front could see Martin kick out to right tackle in place of Collins.
Doing so against the Vikings a year ago, the Cowboys snapped a four game losing streak and scored 31 points after totaling just 41 in the previous four games. This was with Andy Dalton at quarterback, not the franchise QB the Cowboys must protect at all costs as they have now in Dak Prescott.
The Cowboys current plan to do so involves Ty Nsekhe and Terence Steele – with 31 career starts between the two, 14 of which came from Steele last season. There isn't much the Cowboys want to remember from that season, though building a better contingency plan to account for either Collins or Smith missing time should be one of them.
If their current plan doesn't involve moving an All-Pro guard that held up well at tackle to protect Prescott from Joey Bosa on Sunday, the team is showing a level of faith in their OL depth that simply hasn't been earned.
Hard Knocks star Isaac Alarcon is on the Cowboys practice squad, and is the only other player on the roster with experience at tackle aside from left guard Connor Williams playing LT in college.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy told the media last year that moving Martin to tackle was “fantasy football nonsense”, before the Cowboys did so anyway. Now, the HC with extra time to prepare for Los Angeles says the Cowboys have their eyes “wide open”.
Mike McCarthy seemed to indicate that he'd prefer to move forward with the guys who have played RT, Ty Nsekhe & Terence Steele.
But he *did* also note that Connor McGovern played well on Thursday night, and the organization has its “eyes wide open.” Something to watch.
— David Helman (@davidhelman_) September 10, 2021
Just how wide and far the Cowboys have to look to realize that keeping both McGovern and Martin on the field is likely their best shot at protecting Prescott and gaining traction in the run game remains to be seen. McCarthy also said Thursday's opener was a “fun game to play in”, which is a fair assessment when opening on the road against Tom Brady and a Tampa Bay team with all of it's starters back.
Now sitting at 0-1 preparing for the Chargers while already dealing with injuries and suspensions, the Cowboys time for fun is fading and the need for OL help that Zack Martin can provide is obvious.
The Chargers open their season at the reigning NFC East champion Washington Football Team today.