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USATSI

The last time the Dallas Cowboys took the field, it was against the Atlanta Falcons without Tyron Smith protecting the blindside of Dak Prescott, the quarterback got planted like a tent spike, only there was no tent. And while things looked ominous early on in Week 2 with undrafted rookie Terence Steele manning the left edge against Takkarist McKinley, the Cowboys were able to adjust on the fly and Steele wound up performing admirably in what turned out to be one of the most thrilling comebacks in NFL history, fueled by the historic play of Prescott and his arsenal of weapons. Still, Steele is no Smith, and as eyes shift back to the availability of the latter for an important Week 3 clash with the Seattle Seahawks, it's now known exactly what type of neck injury the latter is dealing with.

It's neck stingers, according to owner Jerry Jones, the same ailment that bothered Smith as recently as 2019. Smith missed three games last season as he fought through the issue, and is already a third of the way to matching that mark in 2020. As it turns out though, or rather as Jones noted to 105.3FM the Fan on Tuesday, sitting Smith against the Falcons was a bit of a chess move.

Although he will again be a game-time decision this Sunday (which could actually mean a Saturday decision if he's not on the flight to Seattle), the choice to rule him out last week was with the hopes of giving him a better chance of taking the field at CenturyLink Stadium.

"The update is actually he didn't play last week -- in preparation -- so that he could have a better chance of playing this week or in the future," said Jones. "I'm going to say it one more time. He didn't play last week in part because we made preparations for the future."

Bold strategy that nearly didn't pay off, but it did, at least in the respect of having eked out a win without Smith while having given him an extra week of rest. As Jones described it, Smith had at least a chance of playing against the Falcons, but the Cowboys simply didn't want to risk aggravating the issue -- particularly in not having a bye week until Week 10.

"It wasn't impossible to have him out there last week had we done a couple things differently, but by design we didn't do it that way," said Jones. "We wanted to look to the long term, or the longer term being the next games -- the ones we're getting ready to play. So, I feel as good as you can feel."

That said, it remains 50/50 on if Smith will play in Seattle.

"I don't know," the Hall of Fame owner admitted. "Nobody knows right now until we get out there and see how he's operating during the week here at practice. But for the longer term, I feel good about it. He's had these periods over the last few years when he's had to adjust and literally on a week-by-week basis as to what he's doing with some nerves, called stingers. 

"Those are the kind of things he's dealing with."

Head coach Mike McCarthy noted Smith is "improving," but also echoes Jones' comments on having patience in the matter.

No matter how well Steele plays, a continued absence of Smith will impact the ability to protect Prescott and to open lanes for Ezekiel Elliott. A seven-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro who has already been named to the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team, Smith is a future Hall of Famer who can't easily be replaced, even if the replacement was a seasoned pro and not a first-year talent with all of two games under his belt. Time will tell if Smith misses additional time and how much, but there does seem to be an annual algorithm to his durability. 

He's missed three regular season games in each of his previous four seasons, and while not all of those absences were attributable to the same injury, the three-per-year pattern can't be ignored.

It does bode well thus far in how the Cowboys have opted to not place Smith on injured reserve though, seeing as they can do so and only have him sidelined for three (there's that number again) games under the new IR rules in 2020. If Smith is unable to go Sunday and/or the one after, it'll again be Steele's show, unless the Cowboys make changes that might include reuniting with former starting left guard Ronald Leary -- whom the team met with this week.

They're open to potentially moving Connor Williams to left tackle if needed, but that's a more drastic call to arms than it appears the Cowboys are willing to deploy just yet. For now, at least, they're confident the decision to sit Smith against the Falcons gives him a chance to play against the Seahawks, or at least versus the Cleveland Browns in Week 4.

Stay tuned.