How to Hide an Offensive Offensive Line

For Saturday’s game against the San Diego Chargers, there will be three new members to the offensive line (Doug Free, Robert Brewster, and Montrae Holland) as compared to the 2009 season.  In the past two pre-season matchups, Free has given Cowboys fans confidence that he will do a good job in the regular season.  Brewster has not instilled the same confidence.  As for Holland, he has had a nondescript performance against backup talent, which is normally good for an offensive lineman.

The presumption is that if the offensive line plays poorly, then the offense will play poorly.  Afterall, if there are no holes to run through, running backs will get stuffed near or behind the line of scrimmage.  If Tony Romo doesn’t have time to throw the ball, how will he get the ball to his receivers, let alone stay healthy.  This is true of how the Cowboys normally play their offense.  Romo drops back.  Romo looks through his targets.  Austin, then Williams, then Witten.

It’s not impossible to hide a single novice on the line.  You have the tight end lineup to that side and chip to the defensive end as he releases.  Shade the running back to that side and have him block or chip.  Remember Rob Petitti played well until Flozell Adams was injured and help was not consistently sent his way.

But with a bad offensive line, the offense has to change.  First of all, you put your best run blockers into the game even if they are only marginal pass blockers.  With a heavy dose of running, you pepper in screens to the WRs, screens to the RBs, screens to the TE, slants to the WRs, fades to the WR’s, and quick double moves with fake pumps on the first fake slant.  Screens are extended running plays that can occur in the flat as well as the center of the field.  Quick passes reduce the amount of time your lineman have to effectively block.

That sounds nothing like our seven step drop and let Romo read, then scramble, and then decide offense.  Generally in the 2nd pre-season game the starts will play the entire first half of football.  Romo will play as long as the line can hold up.  What we need to see is whether Jason Garrett will devise a game plan to compensate for a shakey line, or whether he will see whether the line can meet the challenge of playing against a Super Bowl contender.

I like to think that Garrett adjusts game plans based upon the nature of the situation.  The lone time I have seen him have that opportunity (when Romo was injured in 2008), he called passing plays too often with a broken down Brad Johnson at the helm.  He has another opportunity to earn his title of genius.

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