Last week, I used this space to tell you how important Tony Romo was to the Cowboys' success. Spoiler alert: he's, like, super important.
I hinted towards this last time, but it should follow pretty cleanly that the guy who's charged with keeping Romo alive and healthy is really, really, important, too. Technically, Tyron Smith is one of five guys who's job description is 'keep those huge, ugly, mean guys from creating bone fractures inside your quarterback’, but Tyron is the Left Tackle and about a decade ago we all decided to call that the blind side, because apparently no right-handed quarterback ever drops back with his right foot forward. It's really more that the left side of the defense is the weak side, where you tend to put your faster guys and your best pass rusher, but they went and made that Sandra Bullock movie and John Madden screamed “BLIND SIDE” a billion times, so, that's the terminology we're stuck with. And Tyron's the guy we're stuck with, and that's pretty ok.
Tyron Smith is twenty-two years old, and he's started 32 games in the NFL. He'll probably sign his first extension right around the time of this twenty-third birthday. His drafting should have marked a philosophical change in the Cowboys' draft strategy, where staying put in the draft, accepting the best player that's there, and building on the lines ruled the day every draft. Then the Cowboys traded up for Mo Claiborne and traded down for Travis Frederick in back to back years. Still, progress.
And progress is what the Cowboys dearly need from Tyron. He set his floor last year, as a dependable, little-bit-better-than-average left tackle. Now the hope is he works toward his ceiling, which is approximately that of the Sistine Chapel. Here's the good news; Game One versus the Giants gave good indications he was on the escalator up.
If you're in to re-watching, pay attention to Smith on the Witten TD at 3:02 in the second. Mathis Kiwanuka lines up against Smith, tries him to the outside, then tries to spin back on him. Smith catches Kiwanuka (literally) mid spin, and just stops him. Seriously, time just stops inside the bubble Smith created around him and Kiwanuka. Kiwanuka flails like a puppy held by his scruff still until the ball is released. It's actually eerie.
Another play to watch is DeMarco Murray's four-yard run off end in the fourth quarter. Smith pulls on the play, and blocks the outside cornerback. Blocking a cornerback is always tough for a pulling tackle, because they're typically average sized humans, while tackles are giant monsters. Most times in that scenario, the corner just dives to one side, and forces the runner either back in to the teeth of the pursuing defense, or out, where the sideline becomes the 12th man for the defense. Neither of these happened on this play, no. Tyron apparently froze the corner with a stare, and just enveloped him. The announcers compared it to Larry Allen, which is unfair because Larry Allen was the best offensive lineman I've ever seen and he also likely would have eviscerated that poor Giant. Tyron just erased him from the play, which might be less pleasing to the eye and the bloodlust, but is was just as satisfactory to the result of the play.
From a statistical perspective, Smith's strength shows plainly. Check out this trend, from Football Outsiders, for the 2012 season:
Cowboys running off left end: 4.4 Adjusted Line Yards (ALY), 8th in the NFL
Cowboys running at left tackle: 4.59 ALY, 9th in the NFL
Cowboys running between the guards: 4.03 ALY, 17th in the NFL
Cowboys running at right tackle: 3.2 ALY, 32nd in the NFL
Cowboys running off right end: 3.3 ALY, 28th in the NFL
Put simply, if the Cowboys are going to run, the closer the run is to Tyron, the better they are. The closer to they get to Doug Free, the more Romo is stuck in more third-and-long situations that turn into bad things.
Tyron is going to be sorely tested next week, with KC. He'll spend his day battling Tamba Hali, who's notched 62.5 sacks over his seven-year career, and Justin Houston, who had ten sacks last year and started this year by ripping off three sacks in the Chiefs' opener against Jacksonville. To be fair, a determined twelve-year-old with a stick could get a sack against Jacksonville right now, but that doesn't mean this won't be a good test for the third-year pro.
The season goes how Romo goes, but Romo goes how the line goes.