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Cowboys rookie Tyler Smith learns from every shot as he approaches the biggest test of the year

FRISCO — Tyler Smith called the experience “educating.”

When the Cowboys rookie faced Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald on Sunday, the encounter went like it does for many offensive linemen: not well. Donald beat him to the edge for a strip sack in the first quarter. In the second, Donald dominated a two-game streak, firing a penalty from Smith before a sack in the same fashion as the first.

That part of the education was obvious out there in the field for all to see.

What followed on the touchline was less noticeable.

Donald wasn’t the only future Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Smith learned from at SoFi Stadium. Timely nuggets from teammate Jason Peters, inactive with a rib injury, along with a heavy game plan helped calm Smith in the Cowboys’ 22-10 win at SoFi Stadium.

Ups and downs are part of any rookie season.

While the Cowboys’ first-round pick and starting left tackle battled Donald, the team’s second-round pick, defensive end Sam Williams, turned in his best performance yet. Both can build on their outings this Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

“I had a few shots where things didn’t go my way, obviously,” Smith said. “But you know, we are testing the battle. It’s part of the game. It’s part of football. You win, you lose, but you learn from every shot.

Peters spent nine years with rival NFC East Eagles.

Coach Mike McCarthy declined to speculate on Monday whether Peters would be ready to face his former franchise in the battle for the top spot in the division. The Cowboys (4-1) can topple the Eagles, who at 5-0 are the last undefeated team in the NFL.

Peters demonstrated against the Rams how he doesn’t have to be in uniform to contribute.

He helped Smith understand in real time the reason for his struggles with Donald.

“I didn’t kick enough,” Smith said. “JP, I came on the sidelines. He was like, ‘You know, you have to be square with this guy. He’s not a guy you can give a little edge to. He pulls out the iPad, and sure enough, I open it after my first kick. If you open [your pass set], you give someone a little edge. It’s just falling to the level of your coaching.

“You have to take your three kicks. You have to go to your place. It’s something I trained on before the start of the season. ‘Go to your seat. See you in your place. Often, when I got in trouble, I couldn’t make it to my place. … That’s one thing you can never do in this sport is give up your fundamentals no matter who’s in front of you.

The Cowboys were hoping to give Smith more help against Donald, offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said Monday.

On both sacks, however, the Rams unveiled a pre-snap blitz presentation of linebackers Bobby Wagner and Ernest Jones on the left side of the offensive line. It was an unspotted look, something the Cowboys hadn’t seen the Rams do in previous games with Donald on the same edge.

Each time, the Rams sent Wagner on a blitz while Jones fell back into zone coverage. As a result, 21-year-old Smith was left alone on an island and Donald took advantage.

The Cowboys are not concerned.

“Let me clarify Tyler, and we all learned that right away,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “I mean, this young man is an alpha. I mean, he hasn’t blinked at any opportunity he’s been exposed to, so he’s very consistent, very diligent in his preparation – mentally, in class, in the practice environment and all those things. But what I like about him is that he remains aggressive.

“He’s a competitor and he’s young. It’s green in some areas, and it’s just exciting to watch it grow every week. What a great experience to face someone like Aaron Donald, and he will be better off for it. … We all recognize talent. He’s just a young man who has to keep playing, and he’ll be fine.

Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said Williams had his “best game” on run defense.

That included a 3-yard tackle for a loss on Rams running back Cam Akers in the second quarter as a running back blitzer. Later, Williams used his length and power to extend his arms and get rid of a block from tight end Tyler Higbee, tackling Akers with no gain on a first down. In the fourth quarter, Williams added a quarterback hit and a fumble recovery.

“I thought Sam had taken a huge leap,” McCarthy said. “Really proud of Sam. He had a few penalties at the start of the year. He’s done a great job the last two weeks to fix that. He’s had some impact plays this week. That’s the most he played in. But I thought he made a big, big leap that last game.

Smith and Williams are both growing up with the Cowboys’ biggest game yet.

Twitter: @GehlkenNFL

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