Keep in mind that when these quotes were given, he had yet to play a snap of any kind. And, of course, was trying valiantly to recover from one of the worst injuries one could ever sustain and still hope to continue playing.
There was really no reason to rush it, at the time. They had plenty of linebackers in camp and some cap room if needed to address things further. They planned to put him on a restricted "pitch count" (snap count) and use him in special situations early in the season to see how he reacted. At first, the guess was that meant between 12-20 snaps a game to see what would happen.
Then, things happened. Anthony Hitchens was hurt in the preseason and would miss up to two months. The Cowboys wanted to keep more defensive linemen, so they tried to cut things close on linebackers in the final 53. Then, Sean Lee hurt his hamstring. They seem to insist that Kyle Wilber plays nothing but special teams and Damien Wilson is close behind.
How did all of that affect Jaylon Smith? Well, through the first four games of his career, he has played more snaps than anyone on the Cowboys defense who is not a defensive back. He trails only Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, and Anthony Brown on the entire defensive roster.
Pitch count for a guy coming back from injury? Only if you consider having him throw 150 pitches every five days.
In other words, there is no pitch count on Jaylon Smith. Perhaps this is necessity. Who else are you going to play if Anthony Hitchens and Sean Lee are unavailable? This is a complicated answer that requires some outside-the-box thinking about what they could have done to make sure that this didn't happen back in July or August.
But, as it stands now, he is playing every snap. He leads the team in tackles, too, if you would like to spin it positively. Or, you might notice that most of those tackles are happening downfield and he was quite clearly being attacked by the Rams on Sunday in a number of ways. I think you could argue right now that the hope of the Cowboys future and a player heralded as "one of the great Dallas Cowboys to come through the doors here" is just trying to keep his head above water as the wait for Hitchens has been upgraded to "urgent."
Don't blame him. He is trying to recover and has done all the work to get ready. But, if you want to ask questions of how the Cowboys could not have any injury cover for Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith three weeks into the season, that seems a fair question. He played every snap on Sunday. And I want to start this Marinelli report with a look at some of the tape.
Some of the early work was solid. If the run is inside the hash marks, I have no questions about Jaylon right now.
But, the wider the runs get, you can see it is difficult for him to shed blocks and get moving to the sideline. Unfortunately, there is just no way to work around this issue. Your middle linebacker has to be able to mirror the RB to the edge or you are going to have massive issues. Todd Gurley is a special animal, but this is a talented league.
Tavon Austin here, but watch Jaylon. You have seen Sean Lee at Mike shed and attack and sometimes get to the corner before the ball carrier. Lee is incredible and that is a high standard, but Jaylon here has no impact whatsoever on the play and good story or no, this is a problem for now.
Now, the coverage issues. I said a few weeks ago that they have to play zones when he is in there. You may recall that is why he was pulled out on 3rd down packages in Week 1. Well, now they are just asking him to do his best and you can see this is an issue, too.
Todd Gurley isn't his man here - that is Damien Wilson - but you can see that he has the TE and he is even more wide open than Gurley.
I want to show you one more before halftime.
The Rams were trying to figure out when Jaylon was trying to cover Gurley in a route after this play. This was second and 4, and you can see the burst of Gurley versus Jaylon. It is just not ideal at this point of his recovery.
So, the Rams have a smart coaching staff and saw this and wanted to go right back to it. So, next time they had a second and short - same drive - they want to pull Jaylon into open space on a clear out.
Lucky for the Cowboys, they changed the look before the Rams could do it again. This time, Xavier Woods has him. And Xavier makes a fantastic tackle on Gurley. Look at the sideline view and you can see if this was Jaylon, this might have been a touchdown.
This league is ruthless. Great stories are great, but teams aren't going to show mercy. If you are out there and show a hint of weakness, they are going to attack you as often as possible. That is why injured players have to take a seat. And recovery stories need to be used in situations they can succeed.
Through four weeks, it appears the Cowboys are learning this lesson on the fly. Which is why you are starting to hear excitement that Hitchens and Lee may be ready to play on Sunday.
Let's look at the numbers:
WEEKLY DATA BOX
The issues here were that of a slow death. 24 1st downs, 35 points, the Rams score on 9 of 11 drives, and zero takeaways.
It wasn't like they were horrible, but it also wasn't close to a winning effort against a team that never really had to do anything risky because easy runs and throws were doing the job. The Rams were always going to be careful - as we saw at the end when they gave up on 3rd and 4 rather than trying to score a touchdown with 2:00 to kill the game - but the Cowboys still didn't ever take them out of their comfort zone.
There was one moment where Anthony Brown might have helped them steal the game and another moment when DeMarcus Lawrence caused a Jared Goff fumble. But, they seized neither opportunity and never gave the offense a short field. Or even close. The best Dallas drive from a field position perspective started at their own 25.
JARED GOFF THROW CHART
They were not interested in driving the ball downfield as the Rams hardly had a WR impact things besides Cooper Kupp underneath. The idea for that team is to take what is given and get the ball out quick to protect their QB. The Cowboys never broke that plan.
DEFENSIVE SNAP COUNTS
Check out John Daigle's new cool snap count graphic for workloads. You can see, the load for Jourdan Lewis is up and that is great news. I think he has been excellent (more below). Xavier Woods will be next. Very soon.
Rod is gonna Rod. Every year, he blitzes less and less. He wants to protect his weak links in coverage by having more and more back there. Then, mistakes are little mistakes before help arrives. Blitz a lot and then little mistakes are big mistakes in the open field. I admire his ideas, but I also know how this ends when you allow QBs too much time. Aaron Rodgers is an interesting study in this exercise. You either bring the heat and hurry his decisions or you let him have time and don't let his guys get open (they usually don't do that very well).
WEEK 4 SPLASH PLAYS
SEASON TOTAL SPLASH PLAYS
I have never seen anyone triple up the rest of the team like Demarcus Lawrence is right now. He is playing some ridiculously good football. David Irving should be able to make it even better. That is the theory anyway. The single season splash record is 39 by DeMarcus Ware in 2011. Nobody has broken 30 in a season since 2012. And here Lawrence is on 16.5 already. Whew. Annual leaders below since I started keeping this.
As you can see, the splash rate is the final column that measures how many snaps it takes for each splash. The best record was David Irving last year at 19.6 snaps per splash. Look at Lawrence so far. 10.7 snaps per splash! Completely unsustainable, but still, what a start.
Let me leave you with this for the week. I am really excited about the development of two young players who both look like starters to me. In fact, I would not waste anymore time in working in more Xavier Woods at the expense of Jeff Heath - and in addition to him when they want three safeties on the field.
If you had Jourdan Lewis and Xavier Woods in the pool of young defenders who would show their worth the quickest, you win. I thought Chidobe Awuzie was the best of the bunch (and it is early) and of course, our friend Taco Charlton is showing the slow growth that we feared.
Five of the first seven picks in 2016 and six of the first seven picks in 2017 have been given to the defense to try to correct the issues. Only Zeke, Dak, and Ryan Switzer have been given to the offense in the first 14 picks of the last two drafts.
Of those 11 picks, Maliek Collins has been excellent. Anthony Brown has been a regular of decent quality (I realize I don't rate him as highly as some) but excellent for Round 6. And now, Jourdan Lewis is knocking on the door with Xavier Woods and Awuzie close. Charles Tapper and Kavon Frazier are roster pieces who may not have real high ceilings. Taco Charlton should be a starter in 2018-19. Jaylon Smith is a massive question mark for now and the other two are not on the 53-man roster.
Let me show you a few nice plays from each - first, Mr. Lewis:
We have definitely seen a guy who can really tackle on the edge. This is vital and if there is one thing I love from a cornerback, it is a good tackling corner. One that seems to actually enjoy it, rather than just put up with it.
Here are his ball skills again. He did this at Michigan very well and here we see him take advantage of a ball in his area to pull his first interception in his first game. Not bad for a Cowboys defensive back.
That is Todd Gurley right there. Not an easy man to tackle for a guy who weighs 40 pounds less. But, Lewis makes it look pretty pedestrian. Really like his game and his ability to get tackles for loss.
Now, Mr Woods.
The issues with Xavier Woods (how can he be available at this spot in the draft) are largely size-related. Can he be a legit safety at 197 lbs? Well, 20 years ago, that might be more difficult, but to be honest, the position is getting smaller. Still, sub-200 is pretty light. Ideal safety weight is probably 210-220 these days, but if you can combine range with durability and instincts, I am in. Especially in Round 6. Here he is on a corner blitz where he kills the play with a batted down pass.
Here is that Gurley tackle again. I'm sorry, but this is greatness. If you are tired of safeties who take really poor angles, this gives you hope.
And then this - not a splash play - but it looks like a business decision from a WR who feels him coming for a hit. That also looks good to me and his overall disposition and attitude out there is exciting.
So, I realize it is early on Woods, but I am ready to put him in much more now. Maybe after the bye week or sooner. But, with Lewis and Woods, it really looks like there is quality. Awuzie, too. If you really pull three defensive backs who you can start out of this draft, you might not mind Charlton over Watt as much in a few years.