This significant change to Cowboys OL could save offense before playoffs

Aug 12, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle Matt Waletzko (79) in game
Aug 12, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle Matt Waletzko (79) in game / Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys likely would have beat the Miami Dolphins if they had Tyron Smith protecting Dak Prescott's blindside. Prescott did well to overcome shoddy offensive line play, but he was pressured on more than half of his drop backs and the lack of protection limited his ability to locate receivers downfield.

Smith's health is a huge question mark before the playoffs, but it stands to reason the Cowboys won't start him again until he's fully healthy.

If that means sitting him for the final two games of the regular season, then so be it. Dallas needs him at left tackle for the first game of the playoffs and potentially beyond because backup Chuma Edoga was a trainwreck against the Dolphins.

You know who managed to grade out lower than Edoga on Sunday? Right tackle Terence Steele, who's been a liability all season. Steele has become a hindrance to the offense and it's time for the Cowboys to swallow their pride and bench him.

Cowboys must bench right tackle Terence Steele before the playoffs

We hate to pile on Steele, but the facts are the facts.

While Steele has held his own against the softer teams on the Cowboys schedule, he's been a turnstile against teams with a winning record. In fact, 35 of his 49 allowed pressures have come against teams who are over .500, per Pro Football Focus. That's a seven-game sample size, so he's allowing an average of five pressures per game against good teams to go with six sacks and six quarterback hits.

In three games against the 49ers and Eagles, Steele's allowed a whopping 24 pressures (!) -- an average of eight per game -- 14 hurries, four QB hits and six sacks. It's very possible Dallas faces at least one of them in the playoffs.

Not to mention Steele's staring down a matchup against Lions star pass rusher Aidan Hutchinson on Saturday, who gave him fits last season.

The problem, however, is that there's no obvious replacement for Steele. The Cowboys could experiment with newly-activated Matt Waletzko at RT over the final two games. Waletzko is the best backup tackle on the roster, so it couldn't hurt to evaluate his upside at the position before the playoffs.

If the Cowboys wanted to get crazy, they could shift Zack Martin to right tackle and insert promising undrafted rookie T.J. Bass at right guard. If sacrificing stability along the interior means strengthening the edge -- even if it means playing Martin in an unfamiliar position -- then so be it.

Steele hasn't stood a chance on some of his pass-blocking reps against established edge rushers, including Nick Bosa and Haason Reddick. He even got burned by Panthers DE Derrick Brown in Week 11 to the tune of five pressures and two QB hits.

Whatever the solution may be, Steele needs to be benched. The Cowboys had no problem reducing Michael Gallup's role and he's on a big contract. It's time to do the same with Steele. His play has handicapped the offense all year and that can't happen come playoff time.

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