Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys’ Tyron Smith stakes his claim as one of best OL in NFL

ARLINGTON, TX- OCTOBER 30: Dallas Cowboys (T) Tyron Smith (77) warms up before an NFL football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys on October 30, 2016, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. (Photo by Steve Nurenberg/Icon Sportswire)
Steve Nurenberg/Icon Sportswire

Dallas Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith had quite the performance against the Philadelphia Eagles, a team who boasts one of the better pass rushes in the NFL.

The biggest reason he was so excellent was his technique.

An offensive lineman’s technique is one of the hardest things there is to master. Not only does a person need the requisite physical ability and mental aptitude to execute a particular method, it takes hundreds of hours of monotonous drilling and training to be able to perform it at an NFL level because an offensive lineman’s movements are natural to human beings. An offensive lineman must perform unnatural movements in a natural way.

While it is hard for an offensive lineman to master certain movements against air, it is exponentially harder to execute them against NFL level opposition.

Smith didn’t just execute his assignments; he masterfully dominated the Eagles with incredible proficiency, power and footwork.

In other words, Smith’s performance on Sunday was masterful. He taught a graduate level course on how to dominate opposing defender throughout the Sunday Night Football showcase.

To get an idea as to why he played so well, let’s take a look at the tape.

Pass protection

Tyron Smith has always been an athletic freak at left tackle with rare size and strength on top of that. In the past, he was able to get away with average technique at times because of his physical gifts.

Against the Eagles, the USC product was technically sound in pass protection which allowed him to dominate the whole game outside of one poor snap. This play illustrates how well Smith was playing:

The reason why Smith is able to consistently protect the Cowboys quarterback’s blind side starts with his stance. Take a look at it here:

You can see that Smith is playing in a functional stance. His stance isn’t too low or too high which limits wasted movement once he explodes out of his stance. Also, Smith is playing with great knee bend and ankle flexion. Notice how his left foot is flat despite his toes being turned out. This allows him to stay balanced through his stance and create force through the ground. Also, his stance allows him to be mobile while being able to maintain his ability to generate power off the ground.

Smith’s stance let’s his get off the ball quickly and to his landmark before the defender, which puts him in a great position to “build his house” and make the block.

Once Smith gets out of his stance and to his landmark, he uses his long arms and strong hands to engage with the defender and nullify his pass rush. This play is a great illustration of just that:

On this play, Smith is lined up against Philadelphia’s best pass-rusher, Brandon Graham, who is in a wide-9 alignment. Smith gets out of his stance and jump sets the Eagles pass-rusher. Before Graham can even think about engaging, the Cowboys left tackle punches him with his left hand to widen Graham and take him off schedule with his pass rush.

Watch Smith’s right hand as he uses it to control Graham’s left wrist, which eliminates Graham’s ability to get to the edge. This play shows incredible independent hand usage, which is incredibly hard to develop, but the dominating left tackle has mastered it.

As a player works toward mastering his craft, he develops a liking to certain techniques that work well with his skill set and body type. Smith has done exactly that with his counter to the devastating long arm technique that is utilized by all the best pass-rushers in the NFL. Here is a glimpse at that technique:

On this play, Smith is engaged in his stance and explodes into his set once the ball is snapped. He utilizes the drive-catch phase of pass protection as he moves at a 45-degree angle, gets to his landmark before the defender and maintains half-man leverage. However, Smith is a little wide with his hands, and he allows Connor Barwin to get into his frame. Once Barwin tries to separate and utilize the long arm, Smith uses his right hand to execute a subtle little chop to get Barwin off balanced, which negates his ability to generate pressure on the quarterback.

According to former NFL and current owner of O-Line Performance LeCharles Bentley, the key to executing this chop move is always working back to center mass, which allows the offensive lineman to stay balanced and keep control of his hips.

While Smith evolution from a raw, but extremely gifted, offensive lineman to a technically sound and dominant one has been a joy to see, he still makes plays that other offensive tackles just aren’t physically capable of making. Here is a great example:

There are not enough good things to say about No. 77 on this play. The Cowboys appear to be slanting their offensive line to the left. As the imposing left tackle works inside, he notices the Eagles linebacker (No. 53) coming on a delayed blitz. Just before the linebacker is able to get to Dak Prescott, Smith gets in the way and allows Prescott to escape the pressure.

The athletic ability and mental processing that Smith shows on this play is truly special.

Run blocking

As great as Smith is in pass protection, he does his best work in the run game. Run blocking seems to have come naturally for the former first-round pick as he has always loked like a natural with those movements and techniques since entering the NFL in 2011.

Against the Eagles, Smith was especially effective on deuce blocks with Ronald Leary. This is a great illustration:

Here, Smith and Leary work in unison as they execute the deuce block on the defensive tackle. Both players use the same should and foot once they make contact. After that, Smith overtakes the block as Leary releases the linebacker who is filling the hole. Watch how Smith demonstrates his power by moving the defensive tackle past the hashes and almost to the numbers. The reason Smith is able to do this is because he is generating force from the ground with his feet, torquing his elbow to maximize the power he can generate and utilizing short choppy steps move the defender without losing balance.

One aspect of run blocking that the former Trojan may be the best in the league at is the backside cutoff on a zone run. Smith’s quickness and footwork allows him to reach many defenders who he has no business reaching in the first play. Here is a great example of a reach block from the tackle:

With a little aid from the defensive tackle getting out of his stance late, Smith is able to reach and turn the defensive tackle. While it may look easy, there is a ton of technical nuance that goes into this block.

The former ninth overall pick gets out of his stance quickly and uses his backside, or drag hand, to initiate contact before his frontside hand comes into contact then “churn” the defensive lineman all while playing with proper eye level and footwork.

This block is key the play’s success, and it gives Elliott the alley he needs to get to the second level for a nice gain.

Another great trait Smith possesses is his ability to play in space. When coupled with his athleticism, Smith’s ability to block in space allows the Cowboys to utilize him a multitude of different concepts. This play is the best example of Smith’s ability in space along with his freakish athleticism:

The sound you hear is the collective jaws dropping from watching Smith’s execution of this play.

The object of this play is to get Smith out in space in front of Ezekiel Elliott in the hopes of a big gain and boy does it work.

After the snap, Smith pancakes Graham with a crushing punch and sprints out to the number to lead Elliott down the field. That’s a 6-foot-5 and 320-pound offensive lineman running 40 yards down the field to make a block. The speed at which he barrels down the open field is impressive in of himself, but he also stays balanced and makes the block on the defensive back which springs Elliott for even more yardage.

Just a masterful play from a masterful player.

If you didn’t look at the Cowboys practice report each week, you would never know that he is playing through a nagging back issue just by looking at his play against Philadelphia.

Not only is Smith a physical specimen with vine-like 36.375-inch arms and elite athleticism for the position, but he also has skillful technique. Sometimes, he can almost look effortless as he rag dolls defenders and walls off pass-rushers. And unlike in years past, he is doing it with a high level of proficiency on nearly every snap.

Offensive linemen don’t typically get a lot of time to shine in the sun, but it can’t be understated how important they are to the fabric of a team, the Cowboys’ 25-year-old left tackle is one of the best in the NFL and should be for a very long time.

Tyron Smith is a superstar, and it is time that he gets recognized as one.

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