The month of November was nothing short of abysmal for the Dallas Cowboys, but December has seen them flip the script in a big way — at least record-wise. They’re now 3-0 after finishing last month with a 1-3 stretch, and each of their last three wins have been on the road against NFC opponents. But while their defensive unit becomes whole and continually plays as if it’s the best in the league (arguably, it might be), Dak Prescott and the offense remains wildly inconsistent and can’t seem to find the end zone as easily as it once did, an issue exacerbated when Tyron Smith isn’t on the field.
In the team’s Week 14 win over the Washington Football Team, Smith re-aggravated what’s been described to CBS Sports as a high ankle sprain and not a bone spur as initially labeled by owner Jerry Jones, forcing him to miss the Week 15 bout against the New York Giants. Prescott and the Cowboys went on to defeat the Giants, but in large part due to a thumping of Big Blue at the hands of the Dallas defense.
Smith has a shot at returning to potentially help the Cowboys clinch the NFC East in their immediate rematch with Washington on Sunday, but the situation remains fluid, given it’s still early in the week. Jones won’t rule Smith out of the contest, but also won’t rule him in — instead leaning on cautious optimism about the short-term and fiery optimism about the month of January.
“I don’t know about this week, but I certainly don’t rule it out at all,” Jones told 105.3FM the Fan on Tuesday. “We’ve got a lot of this week left. For the longer haul, being the remainder of the season and the playoffs, I’m very optimistic.
“Of course there is no [player] incrementally [more] valuable to us than Tyron Smith. He makes a very huge, significant difference in how we execute in the offensive line.”
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The perennial Pro Bowl left tackle got off to a roaring start to the 2021 season in starting each of the first seven games before missing three games with the injury and, three games after returning, finding himself sidelined a fourth time. In his stead, the Cowboys deployed a rotation of Ty Nsekhe and Terence Steele at left tackle. The two combined to allow a sack (Nsekhe) and four overall pressures, but it appears Dallas will stick with the same formula in the 2021 sequel against Washington.
That is, of course, if Smith is again unavailable. There is also the possibility that, seeing as the Cowboys are still finding ways to win games, that they could simply rest Smith until the postseason or shortly ahead of it, considering his value to any sort of possible run in January to February.
All of which will be discussed as this week (and beyond) rolls along.
One player who is virtually guaranteed to return, however, is safety Donovan Wilson — adding yet another reinforcement to an already dangerous and now mostly healthy defensive unit. Wilson, who had a breakout season a year ago after logging 10 starts and delivering 71 tackles, two interceptions and 3.5 sacks, has been halted by injury on more than one occasion in 2021. He missed four games after suffering a groin injury in the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and his latest stint on IR was due to a shoulder/chest issue that’s held him out since Week 11.
Having been designated to return from injured reserve on Dec. 15, the 21-day clock on his practice window was activated, but he apparently won’t need that much time to ramp up. When asked about the overall performance of the Cowboys defense as of late, team exec Stephen Jones made it clear the expectation is Wilson will be on the field in Week 16.
“Those safeties are making a big difference. We should get Dono Wilson back this week, which will bring a lot of energy to that backfield as well,” Jones said.
In a move that clears room for the looming activation of Wilson, the Cowboys waived rookie defensive end and ‘Hard Knocks’ standout Azur Kamara, who had a difficult time cracking the rotation even before the return of DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory made it that much more so. If Kamara clears waivers, however, he remains a possible addition to the Cowboys practice squad — sources tell CBS Sports.
In the initial absence of Wilson, backup safety Jayron Kearse stepped in and stepped up alongside fellow newcomer Damontae Kazee, becoming a starter for the Cowboys and yet another one of their playmaking ballhawks at the safety position. In the second absence of Wilson, it’s former first-round pick Malik Hooker now finding his mojo in Dallas, grabbing his first interception of the season last week, in what was thus far his best outing in a Cowboys uniform.
With the progression of both Kearse and Hooker, the presence of Kazee, and the return of Wilson, a unit that was scarcely thin with talent a year ago is now brimming with it as the club begins to eye the postseason.
“It’s just a good group of guys,” Jones added. “Certainly, the corners feel the same way about them and what they can do for us. Right now that defense is really coming into its own, and feel like we can also get better as we move forward. Certainly becoming a real strong point on our football team.”
That’s saying the least, and if Smith can return soon to help Prescott right the offensive ship, the Cowboys will be cooking with fish grease.