The Dallas Cowboys lost a key player on the offensive line during the team’s 27-23 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday.
Right tackle Terence Steele went down in the second quarter and could not get to his feet without help. Steele was quickly ruled out for the remainder of the game with a left knee injury confirmed to be a torn ACL and MCL after further testing.
The injury ends the season for Steele and will force the Cowboys to make tough decisions from now on about playing time along the offensive line.
After Steele exited the game, the Cowboys brought 2021 fourth-round pick Josh Ball to fill his spot. Ball struggled in the role and was ultimately replaced by Jason Peters, who has spent his illustrious 18-year career as a left tackle.
Peters entered the game on the right side for the final 98-yard drive that was capped off with the game-winning touchdown, a short run by Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys engineered the drive after a miraculous goal-line stand that kept the Texans from gaining a ten-point lead with only five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Steele was in the midst of a solid season, admirably protecting both Cooper Rush and Dak Prescott. Steele has been on the field for 818 offensive snaps, drawn only six penalties, and allowed just one sack in the 2022 season.
Ball, who has played just 38 snaps this season, has allowed one sack and was unable to hold up in the run game, leading to at least one promising Cowboys drive petering out when Elliott failed to get going.
The options available to the Cowboys are somewhat complex since no direct plug-and-play player is available outside of Ball. The good news for the Cowboys’ offense is that the team will likely have left tackle Tyron Smith available this week.
Smith has been out with a hamstring injury that has set the player back several times. In his place, first-round rookie Tyler Smith has done an admirable job of handling his duties.
There is a possibility that the Cowboys will be able to bring Tyron Smith in at right guard, move Tyler Smith to left tackle, and use Jason Peters — who is 40 years old — in a limited capacity at right tackle.
Ultimately, the decision on how to overcome the loss of Steele will be one the Cowboys must make rather quickly. The Cowboys currently sit at 10-3 and are two games behind the NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles, who clinched a playoff spot Sunday with a 48-22 win over the New York Giants.
The Cowboys will face off against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, the third matchup against an AFC South team in a row. The Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans, and Jacksonville Jaguars all hold records below .500, but the Colts and Texans gave the team trouble beyond their record.
Just over the horizon, the Cowboys face a monumental task in a second attempt at earning a win over the division leaders when they host the Eagles on Christmas Eve.
The Cowboys cap their season with two road games, a Thursday night game against the Tennessee Titans on December 29 and against the Washington Commanders in the season finale.
Both division matchups are likely to be must-win games, and victories in both could catapult Dallas to the NFC East title and a top playoff seed.