1. Will Doug Free ever look like a premiere left tackle?
According to the wizards at Pro Football Focus, Free got “abused all day long” last week. He allowed 6 pressures, 2 Romo knock downs, and he got charged with a penalty. He also graded out poorly in run blocking. When the season started, Free was expected to be the anchor of this line. It is safe to say that he hasn’t lived up to expectations thus far. Remember: it was not Mario Williams or Jarod Allen who ‘terrorized’ Free last week, it was Justin Smith; he is not exactly an elite DE.
This week Free will face Brian Orakpo and first-round pick Ryan Kerrigan. Both these OLB’s are better pass rushers than Smith, so Free will have to play better than last week or Romo’s injured ribs may not last too long. If Free continues to struggle protecting Romo’s blindside, it will be interesting to see how quickly the coaching staff considers moving the rookie Smith to LT.
2. Will the Cowboys be able to stay competitive in yet another game without any semblance of a running game?
Some have argued, quite convincingly in my opinion, that one of the main reasons for the loss to the Jets was the absence of a power running game to close out the 4th quarter. The running game was equally dismal against the 49ers. As a team, the Cowboys are averaging a paltry 2.3 yards per carry for under 55 yards a game. I don’t think the problem is the RB’s; it seems more that the OL is failing to get any push of the line of scrimmage and neglecting to open the necessary holes.
It is almost trite to state that you can not continually win football games in the NFL with a one-dimensional offense. The OL has to run-block well enough to make their RB’s legitimate threats. The offense will likely be without both Austin and Bryant this week, so logically they need to rely more heavily on the running game. If the running game continues to falter, I will be watching to see if I can determine why. Are they losing one-on-one battles, getting out schemed, or missing assignments and failing to communicate?
2.b. Will either Choice or Murray seize the opportunity presented by Jones’ injury to prove they deserve more carries in the future?
2.c. When will we see Romo use the reverse play action (fake a pass and then hand the ball off to a RB) that was so effective last year?