Like the majority of Cowboys Nation, I believed that the offensive line was abysmal and needed to be overhauled. Tony Romo’s scrambling and the lack of a running game made it easy to blame the offensive line as the reason the Dallas Cowboys finished 8 – 8 and failed to make the playoffs in 2012.
The Cowboys selected center Travis Frederick in the 2013 NFL draft which remained the most newsworthy offensive line addition. If this was an area of weakness, why wasn’t it addressed more? Wanting answers, I buried my head in the statistics and discovered two things. Bill Callahan needed to take over the offensive play calling from Jason Garrett and the Cowboys offensive line was definitely not the weakest link.
Numbers never lie, but they don’t discuss injuries and position changes. Last season, Tryon Smith and Doug Free switched positions and that requires a change in stance and footwork. The Cowboys added two starting guards, Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau. Bernadeau had an off-season injury before the 2012 season and had shoulder surgery this off-season. Phil Costa, the starting center was injured in week one and ended the season on injured reserve. Costa’s backup Ryan Cook filled in, but had hamstring issues and missed some games. At times, Bernadeau was required to play center.
With multiple changes of both personnel and positions, cohesiveness wasn’t an adjective associated with our offensive line. Cowboy Nation didn’t get the pleasure of watching five men move in unison. It’s a beautiful thing to see the synchronized feet of offensive linemen moving at the snap with the precision of a marching band. Large holes for our running backs, an impenetrable pocket for Tony Romo and a large stack of pancake blocks also brings praise for an offensive line.
One stat that measures the performance of an offensive line is — Sacks Allowed. The Cowboys offensive line allowed 36 sacks in 2012. The New York Giants gave up the fewest sacks with 20 and the Arizona Cardinals allowed the most sacks with 58. The Giants and Cardinals failed to reach the playoffs. The Green Bay Packers made the playoffs while allowing 51 sacks. The Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens surrendered 38 sacks. If the Packers can make the playoffs with 51 sacks and the Ravens can win the Super Bowl with 38 sacks, shouldn’t the Cowboys contend after allowing only 36 sacks?
The Cowboys ranked third in the NFL by averaging 41 passing attempts per game. The Green Bay Packers ranked 16th with an average of 35 passing attempts per game. The Detroit Lions led the league with 46 passing attempts per game and allowed 29 sacks. Every team in the league, with the exception of the Lions, allowed more sacks per passing attempt than the Cowboys. That means our offensive line was far from being the worst in the league, but listen to the gripes within Cowboy Nation and it will seem that way.
The Cowboys offensive line allowed a sack in every game except against the Carolina Panthers (I was there!). The Cowboys’ offensive line allowed 7 sacks against the Cleveland Browns and 4 sacks to both the Giants and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That’s 15 sacks in three games! If the offensive line allowed 3 sacks or less in those games, the Cowboys would’ve allowed less than 30 sacks for the season! Would you still complain about the offensive line?
There were five games against top defenses in which the Cowboys allowed one sack. These teams include the Superbowl Champion Baltimore Ravens and two other playoff teams: Seattle Seahawks and the Atlanta Falcons. The other two teams were the Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers. Of these games, they lost four of them with the lone win coming against the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime. Just winning those one sack games would have resulted in a 12 – 4 record.
Our makeshift offensive line last season didn’t allow the most sacks for a team with the third most passing attempts and second lowest rushing attempts per game (22). After 648 passing attempts by Tony Romo, there were only 36 sacks and there could have been less. (Golf Reference Alert!) Imagine missing the fairway 36 times after hitting your driver 648 times, you’d be ecstatic!
The Cowboys should always be looking for ways to upgrade every position. Statistically, however, the numbers prove that the offensive line wasn’t the team biggest weakness last season and why major changes weren’t made during the off-season.
In part two, I’ll address why Bill Callahan needed to take over the play calling duties and how the offensive line performed in the running game. See you next week!