Sunday, September 10, 2017

OL Makes Cowboys Contender For Years To Come

If someone wished to dwell on the absolute best-case scenarios for the 2017 Dallas Cowboys season, the focal point of that exercise should begin with the unit that controls the entire operation.  Hopefully, by now, they need no introduction.

Because by now, the Dallas Cowboys mammoth and dominant offense line has pushed aside nearly every challenge that has been brought before them in their three seasons since placing the three All-Pros together.  Tyron Smith enters his 7th year in the league now since being selected 1st in 2011.  Travis Frederick starts his 5th and Zack Martin his 4th.  During the trio’s time as a unit, the Cowboys have run for more yards overall (6,640), more yards per carry (4.69), more yards per game (138.3), and more big runs of over 10 yards (184) than any other team in the sport.  This, despite switching out starting running backs from DeMarco Murray to Joseph Randle to Darren McFadden to Ezekiel Elliott during those 3 seasons from 2014-2016. 

During that same three year stretch, they have ranked 7th in fewest sacks allowed, 5th in yards per pass attempt, and 8th in overall passer rating.  Those numbers may not knock your socks off relative to all of the 1st place finishes in run production, but perhaps it should because unlike the teams ranked above them, the Cowboys have switched out starting QBs during that 3 year period more than almost anyone.  From Tony Romo to Brandon Weeden to Matt Cassel to Kellen Moore to Dak Prescott is much different than the top passing teams who have only had 1 QB or at the most 2 during that stretch.  Yet, the Cowboys, with 5 different starting QBs, have top 10 rankings over the 3-year sample of Smith-Frederick-Martin in front of them. 

The team has literally switched out its leading rusher and leading passer each season during this 3-year stretch at an expansion-team level of inconsistency, and yet the offense’s 3-year numbers are all in the Top 10.  The also have won 29 games in those 3 seasons and run off a 29-19 regular season record – something else you won’t see from teams with a different RB/QB duo for all 3 years.  And it isn’t because it gets to play with an overpowering defense, is it? 

It has been pointed out a number of times in a number of places that the Cowboys Offensive Line building plan was partly about the obsession with remembering the dominant OL of the early 1990’s Dallas-dynasty and partly about the luck of how the NFL Draft fell to them each year.  The team could have taken JJ Watt over Tyron Smith, could have taken a gem defender over Frederick and wanted to take Ryan Shazier and their GM really wanted Johnny Manziel over Martin.  Sometimes, the best picks you take are the ones you don’t because your son wrestles the card out of your hand. 

Regardless of the original and grand design, the reality is simple.  This team is a power in the NFC because they have an offensive line that makes everyone look better and has proven they can succeed with almost anyone having the ball behind them.  It is a repeatable and sustainable style of play that makes a RB’s and a QB’s job much simpler than any other place in the league.  They also have mastered a style of play that is unlike almost any other of the powers in the NFL, so the uniqueness gives them another advantage as most defenses load up to stop the many aerial attacks they must face.  Then the ground-and-pound Cowboys show up on the schedule and sweat forms on the undersized brows of the opponents.

The Cowboys are going to be very good again this year and for what appears to be many years to come.  Why?  It is obvious.  This offensive line is phenomenal and the oldest of the bunch is merely 26 years old. 

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