The 2020 Dallas Cowboys will be built around speed and explosive plays, which is great, but are they sacrificing the trenches in the process?
The narrative that the Dallas Cowboys offensive line has taken a step back in recent years couldn’t be further from the truth. Their 2019 advance stats via Football Outsiders, had the offensive line second in the NFL for both the run and the pass. But now the retirement of center Travis Frederick and another draft with limited focus on the position group have me questioning if the Cowboys are straying from their identity on offense?
Any fan of America’s Team believes in the power of a successful offensive line due to the success of “The Great Wall of Dallas”, the nickname for the offensive line who’s play led to three-Super Bowls in four years in the early 90s. For four seasons, from 1992 to 1995, that position group led the charge for the Cowboys to go 59-16, including playoffs.
The modern team has been centered around solid offensive line play as well. The two most recent examples being the 2014 and 2016 seasons. Which featured running backs DeMarco Murray and Ezekiel Elliott running for 1,845 and 1,631 yards respectively. Both led the league in rushing those years. 2014, the Cowboys went 12-4. In 2016, 13-3.
These years came after a draft strategy by the front office to focus on rebuilding the offensive line by introducing first-round talent to the position group for a string of years. From left tackle Tyron Smith in 2011 all the way to the steal of the 2015 NFL draft, first-round talent La’el Collins signing as an undrafted free agent after a controversial pre-draft period.
By 2016 the Cowboys had an offensive line that featured four-first round draft pick talents, giving them a major advantage. It has now been six NFL Drafts since the team has used a first-round pick on an offensive lineman, a group that has survived and dominated for the past six seasons now. But will this catch up to them?
The 2020 Cowboys went with CeeDee Lamb in the draft and then turned their focus to the defense before picking a center with the 146th pick, Tyler Biadasz out of Wisconsin. Even though he fell this far in the draft, he still has a chance to be Frederick’s replacement Week one. Still, the team will probably take a hit at the center position.
The Cowboys want playmakers and it makes sense, the Cowboys of the 90s had star-players outside of the trenches. But their number one strategy was to run teams over so many times throughout a game that it wasn’t even a contest by the end of the game. They were great at it, the reason they won 79% of their games for that four-year stretch. So, as the Cowboys have star players dotting the field, do they have enough horsepower upfront?
In my opinion, it will come down to the health of Smith at left tackle, who hasn’t played a full season since 2015. If Smith is healthy this offensive line is still excellent, especially with the growth of Connor Williams at the left guard spot. The margin for error is thin though, the thinnest it might be ever for this modern group.
Past seasons the group was determined well before training camp and could overcome any injuries. The offensive line is still the identity of a successful Dallas Cowboys team and 2020 has to be the same if the offense wants to be able to take advantage of their firepower at the skill positions. The organization can’t forget their roots.
I was recently watching a replay of the 1995 NFC Championship game which featured the Green Bay Packers trying to steal a win in Dallas. Emmitt Smith ran for 150 yards and the fourth quarter featured the Cowboys scoring 14-points in seven offensive plays to start the quarter to take a 38-27 lead and held on to the very end for their third Super Bowl trip.
Defenses were worn down and couldn’t hold on much longer when they reached the fourth-quarter in the 90s versus the “Great Wall of Dallas”. The 2020 version of America’s Team has the explosiveness to take advantage of an offensive line wearing down defenses throughout a game. The blueprint lays in past success.