This year’s rendition of the Cowboys offensive line leaves me genuinely confused. Gone is the “great wall of Dallas,” missing a fundamental cornerstone in center Travis Frederick. “The chasm of chaos” (it’s a working nickname) has done the Cowboys no favors through the first half of the season. Yes, the passing game is bad, and hopefully, the acquisition of Amari Cooper can help with that. However, let us take our focus off the running narrative about Cowboy receivers and readdress the elephant in the room. Who knows, maybe that elephant can put on a jersey and help block.
When Did the Cowboys’ Strength Become A Weakness?
One of the defining characteristics of the 2016 Cowboys squad was a dominant offensive line and an inconsistent pass rush. Fast forward a year and a half and the opposite appears to be true. The Cowboys are tied for fourth in sacks allowed through the first seven games (24). Even with all-world center Travis Frederick sidelined with guillian barre syndrome, 24 sacks by an offensive line still boasting two pro-bowlers is unjustifiable. “But Jay, Dak Prescott keeps leaving the pocket early, it’s no one’s fault but his own.” True, Dak has run clear out of empty pockets and directly into the arms of awaiting pass-rushers a time or two this season. But not 24 times. So what exactly is going on?
I’m Gonna Go Ahead and Put This One on Paul Alexander
Simply put, the running game is not operating at maximum capacity in 2018. It is Alexander’s job to make sure it does. The Dallas line is not generating the push necessary to help Ezekiel Elliott stay ahead of the chains. This is the primary purpose of a Dallas Cowboy offensive lineman. It takes time for a ground game to start producing not because the running back needs to “warm up”, but because the offensive line needs to get going. Momentum is generated and the trenches are won by linemen repeatedly pushing the defense off the line of scrimmage. Cowboy linemen? Well, they love run blocking. The reason? They get to attack the defense with their first steps, meeting and initiating contact the moment the ball is snapped. Ultimately, Dallas’ success in the run game benefits them in another way.
It helps them dominate time of possession by keeping the offense on the field. At least, until this year. Dallas has lost time of possession in virtually every game they have played this season. The result? More passes. The problem? The O line looks uncomfortable in pass protection as well. While I understand the tandem of Prescott and backup center Joe Looney are responsible for a majority of audibles in pass-protection, certain questions are still unanswered.
I see Tyron Smith lose the edge against defensive ends, I see La’el Collins get called for holding every other play, and I see two possibilities. Either every offensive lineman besides Zack Martin is suddenly regressing in talent, or they feel uncomfortable performing in their current system. My vote is the latter. Smith and Collins have earned the benefit of the doubt due to past merit. Whatever Paul Alexander is cooking is not sitting right with the big boys up front.
Need additional evidence? Google how many sacks the Bengals have given up so far this season. I’ll give you a hint, it’s less. Much less.
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