Growth of the Line: The Improvement of the Dallas Cowboy’s Offensive Line

The Dallas Cowboy’s 2012 offensive line has been a major disappointment this season but there’s good news: they seem to be improving. That’s probably not a very bold statement since earlier in the season the Dallas Cowboys had what many considered one of the NFL’s absolute worst. I suppose Philadelphia’s was worse but that’s mostly because of injuries. The Cowboys chose this offensive line – ON PURPOSE! So what were they thinking? Did they make the right moves? Should fans just be more patient? Let’s take a look at it…

The Build

Nov 22, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Bill Callahan (center) with the offensive line during the game against the Washington Redskins during a game on Thanksgiving at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The misevaluation of the talent was almost unforgivable. Jason Garrett has been relatively good at player evaluation and finding “the right kinds of guys”. Bill Callahan, the Offensive Coordinator, is thought of as an offensive line guru. He was, no doubt, tasked with building the O-line and molding them into an effective unit.   The scouting department has been making a name for themselves by posting back to back to back strong drafts and Jerry Jones personally prides himself on his ability to lure free agents.

So with a group of accomplished gentlemen like this calling the shots, how on earth did they whiff so badly in building this offensive line?

 The Personnel

Doug Free has been abysmal much of the season, ranking as one of the absolute worst among all offensive tackles. To add some salt to that wound – he’s also one of the highest paid.

Mackenzy Bernadeau was brought in as a free agent from Carolina. He wasn’t highly regarded in Carolina and didn’t even start for them in 2011, yet the Cowboys saw something in him and decided to offer him a serious contract.

Nate Livings was another free agent “get” in the offseason. He was at least a starter in his previous spot (Cincinnati) but he was still not missed by media or fans when they learned he signed with Dallas.

Tyron Smith was asked to move to the left side in his second NFL season. Even though he is as physically talented as anyone in the league, he is fighting through a substantial learning curve.

Strangely, Phil Costa was expected to be the starting center. He was embarrassingly poor last season so it’s difficult to imagine what the coaching staff saw that made them think Costa could improve enough to be suitable. Regardless, Costa has suffered through multiple injuries this season and has been replaced by Ryan Cook. Cook has been shockingly decent and may prove to be a cheap and effective stopgap.

The Progress

Sep 16, 2012; Seattle, WA, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) calls out a play at the line during the 1st half against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

As the season progressed the line suffered through multiple injuries. Offensive lines are about cohesiveness as much as individual talent. The repeated injuries and positional shuffling kept players from ever feeling comfortable. But even considering the injuries as a valid excuse for poor performance, the Cowboys line underachieved.

 

The only reason the run game even exists is because of DeMarco Murray. DeMarco’s power and effort are solely responsible for his success. Just count the number of times he gets hit in the backfield each game. Tony Romo happens to have some of the best pocket presence and elusiveness in the league. The only QB’s harder to sack are Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers (possibly RGIII someday). Romo’s unique skills also have covered up the offensive line’s shortcomings all season.

Midseason grades said the offensive line was the worst unit on the Dallas Cowboys and one of the worst lines in the entire league. But in the second half of the season they started improving. The Steelers game may have been their best effort to date. Murray was still hit in the backfield from time to time but he also did see some occasional holes. Tony Romo was hurried early and often but it was an amount he could handle. The offensive line is clearly on the upswing the only question is now that we’ve seen the floor how high can the ceiling be.

 Verdict

It’s premature to issue a verdict on the offensive line because they still have two extremely important games ahead. They have every opportunity to prove to teammates, media, and fans, that they are part of the future of this team. They are not only playing for respect but for jobs. These last two games (and more if they do well enough) is their opportunity.

Topics: Bill Callahan, Dallas Cowboys, Doug Free, Tyron Smith

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