The object of the exercise on Saturday night was to let Jaylon Smith return to game action and then quickly move on to the next one.
I acknowledge that. So, let me say at the top that it is unfair to then scrutinize his every move. If the threshold of success was to merely participate, then we don't need to look at the 12 snaps more closely and see what we can see.
But, since I love to look at video every week and pick the topic that seems most interesting to you the studious video-watching Cowboys fan, I kept coming back to the idea that I would rather do this than break down Kellen Moore/Cooper Rush again. Rod Smith for RB was another interesting idea, but let's carefully and gently look at Jaylon's night. My hope is we look back at this in November and see how far he has come. Maybe that will be a great problem to have.
OK, I expect more video in this post than words, so let's get started.
1st and 10:
Not much to see here. Middle zone in a pass drop. Drops 5 yards to cover No. 85 in the middle.
2nd and 3:
Same job as last, but this time he gets near the action on the right. This is generally the job of the Mike LB, to patrol the underneath and then rally to the ball. You often hear sideline to sideline. We also use the numbers and the hash marks as landmarks to measure range. The best are said to be able to cover sideline to sideline. Incredibly rare to actually have that ability.
3rd and 3:
Here, on 3rd down, you will often see the LBs up closer to the line as they "sugar the A-Gaps" which is a fancy way of saying they are faking a blitz-look on either shoulder of the center and then will quickly peel out (most of the time, sometimes they really are blitzing those A-Gaps). This time, Jaylon is the "rat in the hole" which means the Cowboys are in man coverage elsewhere and he is able to rove the shallow area (the free safety is doing the same in the deep area) in a form of the Cover 1 which we see so much on 3rd down. The Colts know this and have a half-hearted rub-route which the Cowboys stop short of the sticks and bring on the punt team.
1st and 10:
Look at all the LBs fly downhill as they are sitting on run on 1st and 10. You may notice this posture on most 1st and 10 plays which is why this is the down where 90% of play-action passes happen. Here, he has 75-Mewhort on him as guards get to the 2nd level to take on dive-bombing LBs and Smith circles around him to force the cutback.
Here we get another view and you can see if you circle toward the sideline, you are leaving a hole inside that needs to be filled as well. Smith goes to the outside of the right guard and has play-side pursuit in the B-Gap that Gore sees rather quickly. But, DeMarcus Lawrence defeats his block so soundly that the LBs actually didn't really factor in much until Hitchens is in on the play after the cutback.
2nd and 9:
Here #54 is on the run fake. Orlando Scandrick's blitz ends the play off the edge when it turns into a pass.
3rd and 9:
Here is a 3rd down where the Cowboys want to stop the play before the sticks and the TE is in Jaylon's zone underneath. It is a crosser so the target needs to be headed off by the outside corner and Scandrick is doing his job nicely which allows Jaylon to close the deal. Outside the numbers and several changes of direction for Smith after starting tight with the A-Gap. If there is any moment to suggest that he is headed back in the right direction, this is a real good sign.
1st and 10:
Into the second quarter we go. Here is a 1st down pass where Jaylon has middle/shallow and deals with an underneath play with solid movement again. I was hoping to see a little man-coverage with 54, but the Cowboys clearly weren't worried about that in Game 1.
2nd and 4:
On this play, they put Jaylon into action as he is dive-bombing the outside lane with 90-Lawrence opening up space for him with a slant of his own. Jaylon is right on the play and 23-Frank Gore does a fine job of diverting his direction to at least keep the play alive for a quick moment. Once this happens, Smith turns into backside pursuit and you can see 96-Maliek Collins making this run a short one as well. This is what we want to see.
I really like watching Jaylon on this play, with a small qualifier. We should remember that straight line speed is the smallest issue for a guy returning from a major injury. It is cutting and changing direction that are the real hurdles. He certainly looks stiff there. This is the flash that he is known for and although he comes close to over-running the ball and that first lateral step is the issue, overall I liked this quite a bit.
3rd and 1:
If there was a poor play from Smith, this would likely be it. As the Mike, you can't get beat inside on 3rd and 1. I wish we had the end zone view, but I don't believe he can allow himself sealed off by #67 there.
1st and 10:
This is demonstrating that the Colts had almost no success on the ground against the Cowboys. Jaylon is coming downhill and flashes at the snap and then stalls a bit trying to get off his block, but 96 and 93 are there quickly and it is over before the LBs can get home.
2nd and 13:
Without my beloved All-22's, we can only wonder what took Smith so deep here, but he is off the screen the entire snap, so let's save our commentary here a bit.
3rd and 5:
Once again, he is the rat in the hole (rover for the shallow area) and you see some reluctance from his legs to smoothly move him to the ball as his turn seems a bit wide, but all in all no big deal.
So, there you have it. 12 snaps and we looked at each of them.
I would say that there was some good. He definitely knows where to be. He now knows a little more about trusting that leg. Can he move like he once did? Not yet. Did they play him too early? I would have to say now after several more looks that I am not as concerned as I was on Saturday night.
He did labor and run a bit differently than I remember at Notre Dame, but given that we are watching with no intimate knowledge of the medical situation, let's continue to be patient.
I would say overall that 54 in a Cowboys uniform is no longer a fictional idea. It has happened. Whether he plays more next week or they slow-play things is anyone's guess. But, I am pretty interested in what happens next.