Forget Ezekiel Elliott, The Cowboys Really Miss Tyron Smith

Ezekiel Elliott finally began serving his on-off-on-off-on-off-on suspension this week, and everyone had an opinion on how much of an impact it would have the Cowboys offense.1

On Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, what was more noticeable than Elliott’s absence on the running game was the massive effect that an injury to Tyron Smith had on the Cowboys’ ability to protect Dak Prescott. Smith’s replacement gave up six sacks to Adrian Clayborn, the most any player has had this season and in the top-5 of all time. For context, Smith only gave up two sack in Weeks 1-9 and two all of last season.

Comparing Points Added

To quantify the negative effects of the missing players, I compared the Cowboys rushing and sack points added for the previous eight weeks to Week 10.

Week Rush Points Added* Sack Points Added
1 -0.8 -1.3
2 -2.4 -1.9
3 -3.5 -1.7
4 3.6 -4.9
5 -1.9 -0.9
7 5.9 0.0
8 1 -2.1
9 -1.4 -0.5
10 -2.4 -18.5

* Excludes quarterback runs

The Cowboys had a less effective run game than in previous weeks (-2.4 points added vs 0.05 average), but was only tied for the second worst performance of the year. In contrast, the amount of points the Cowboys lost on sacks in Week 10 was over three times more than any single game this season, and significantly worse than the previous weekly average (-18.5 versus -1.7).

Obviously, Smith isn’t the entire offensive line. But Smith’s value is highlighted by the fact that seven of the eight sacks given up by the Cowboys were credited to players lining up across from his replacements.

Ezekiel Elliott’s value has be a contention among “football” and “numbers” crowds since he went at a premium draft position as the fourth overall pick in the 2016 draft. But after last week, maybe the discussion should be more about whether Tyron Smith or Dak Prescott is the most valuable player on the team, not Ezekiel Elliott.

  1. Also the defense if you subscribe the the Jerry Jones theory that Elliott is a great help on both sides of the ball.

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