The NFL is a game of inches. Yes, we have all heard that and every time we see a failed fourth down conversion, it rings true. The NFL is also a game for the young. That doesn’t resonate nearly as much, but it is absolutely evident in the Dallas Cowboys 2010 season.
You may ask, “But this team is younger… at the corners, at tight end, at wide receivers, at the defensive line, and linebackers.” Yes, but not at the offensive line. Andre Gurode, Marc Colombo, and Kyle Kosier have 9 years in the league with Leonard Davis having 10. Flozell Adams was the senior statesman last year and is entering his 13th year. Since he was replaced by Doug Free, the average age of the offensive line actually went down for the 2010 season.
Earlier this year, Jerry Jones said that if Adams could play as well in 2010 as he did in 2009, he would absolutely keep him as a starter. Jones gambled that the remainder of the line would play as well in 2010 and he lost. Jones may have even believed that an occasional injury may occur, but we were covered. Nope. Montrae Holland is the worst backup guard in the history of the Cowboys. It is not because of his performance on the field, but rather his inability to remain on the field. For conjecture purposes, if we grade Kosier at an 84 and Holland at 77, it is not a substantial drop off. However, when Holland is unable to play, we plug in an player who is graded at 59. Holland is a speed bump to the 59. With Alex Barron, Jones believed that a leopard could change his spots. Barron is one of the most penalized players in the league. Was it a surprise to anyone other than Jones that Barron “forgoed” all technique and instantly bear-hugged Brian Orakpo?
The fact of the matter is that Jones was at the roulette table and kept betting on black. Winner. Again he bet on black. Winner! Again he bet on black. Winner!!! FINALLY, this season he has lost!!! Most people would view it as an inevitability that the veterans would need to be replaced. Jones either didn’t see it coming or he did not care. Offensive line has not been a priority in the draft and it has affected the entire team.
Jones’s draft mentality regarding offensive lineman is flawed. He believe girth and size translates to success. Not surprisingly we have drafted players with limited footwork and balance. Playing offensive line has more to do with leverage, attitude, physical strength, and positioning (LAPP). You combine that with a 350 lbs. behemoth, and you have a special player. But drafting behemoths with limited LAPP, and all you have is a fat man taking up space.
Jason Garrett has had an uneven career in Dallas. He has been hailed genius and an idiot in successive weeks. Though this year you can see his lack of confidence in the offensive line in his play calling. The lack of a running game isn’t due to his affinity towards the pass, but rather the offensive line’s inability to push the defense. There are no holes for the runningbacks to gravitate towards. The athletic line with Free at the edge we were sold during the off-season has not materialized. Garrett is calling quick passes hoping the athletic wide receivers will break a tackle.
There are many calling for more running plays. You can do so to keep the defense honest, but is 2nd and 10 after an incompletion better than 2nd and 12 after a busted running play? Garrett is attempting to run a west coast offense on the fly within the structure Don Coryell’s offense (brought to Dallas by Norv Turner and Ernie Zampese). We are attempting to complete short passes as a substitute for a lack of a running game. Ironically enough, the best suited Cowboys wide receiver to play in this offense is playing in San Diego. Yes, Patrick Crayton. The most under appreciated Cowboys wide receiver. The remainder of the wide receivers are talented, but they are not consistent. They simply drop too many balls. When the Patriots were playing this style of offense they had Troy Brown and a myriad of other low level receiving talent. Honestly, would anyone trade for the Troy Brown over Miles Austin, Roy Williams, or Dez Bryant? Maybe yall respond Williams simply to get him off the team.
Is there a solution to fix the 2010 Cowboys? No… but I would suggest to Garrett to do the following. Throw DEEP. I’m not talking 15 yard comebacks. We should throw 50 yards down the field. Throwing it 50 yards and slightly out of bounds will keep the safties back. At least the mediocre offensive line will contend with only 7 defenders rather than 8 in the box. With the size and athleticism of our wide outs, they could come down with the ball or possibly draw a pass interference penalty.
As it currently stands, the offensive line prevents the offense from running, and having any meaningful passing game. The offense is plagued by three and outs. The Cowboys defense is affected by lack of rest during the game and it manifests itself in the game as players have difficulty making a tackle. It appears as though the defense has quit when it is only exhausted. We can’t pin special teams on the offensive line. I suppose you could say that the draft of 2009 (special teams edition) is a failure since special teams contributors have been cut from the team, Jason Williams, Mike Hamlin, etc.
How can we resolve the problem going into the future? First we need to start by drafting two players who will contribute immediately, Costanzo or Sherrod at tackle, and Mike Pouncey at guard. Move Free to right tackle again, and fill in the remainder of the positions with solid free agents or possibly Kosier if he returns from his injury. Brewster is probably a lost cause at tackle, though Sam Young may continue to progress. Immediately bring all five projected starters in to learn the system and develop a rapport early in OTA’s. There will likely be 2 pre-season games in 2011, so it is paramount that the starting offensive lineman receive as many repetitions as a group.
The 2010 season isn’t over, but there isn’t a way to scheme a bad offensive line. You can’t hide ugly with makeup, regardless of what Loreal tells your wife.