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Dallas Cowboys Offensive Line is Still a Major Weakness

This past week we’ve dedicated substantial time discussing the status of the Dallas Cowboys offensive line. But what did we learn? As we enter training camp it’s important to keep expectations in check, especially after such a low-churn offseason in which very few roster changes were made.

What reasonable conclusions can we now draw from the progression of the offensive line?

Dec 2, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys tackle Doug Free (68) and guard Mackenzy Bernadeau (73) and center Ryan Cook (63) and guard Nate Livings (71) and tackle Tyron Smith (77) in the huddle during the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Cowboys Stadium. The Cowboys beat the Eagles 38-33. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

I came right out and said immediately that this offensive line WILL improve in 2013. That’s not really a bold statement since they did so poorly in 2012 virtually anything they do in 2013 will be seen as an improvement. I’m not being dramatic either. The offensive line was terrible. In order to assess any part of the Dallas Offense one must first accept how poorly the offensive line played. The highest linemen grade given was to Tyron Smith with a C+.

Friends, that’s not a great score for a valedictorian.

Now Tyron is going to be fine. He will be a Pro Bowler before you know it so don’t worry about him. Doug Free shouldn’t be on the team whether he’s playing at a discounted rate or not – he should have been cut. But even he wasn’t the worst part of the O-line. The main issue for the 2012 Dallas Cowboys was the middle of the offensive line (Both Guards and the Center position).

Dec 9, 2012; Cincinnati, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray (29) is stopped at the goal line against the Cincinnati Bengals during the first half at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Running Game

The middle of the offensive line destroyed the running game. DeMarco Murray is a phenomenal talent. He found ways of gaining positive yards when there were none to be found. Seriously, not many running backs in the NFL could have done what he did. Time and time again he was hit in the backfield (sometimes 3-4 yards back) and he found a way to get positive yards. Sadly Murray is injury prone and can’t be relied upon throughout an entire season.

The middle of the line rarely got any push forward and was often driven backward. The most successful plays were draws since it didn’t require anything substantial from the front three to be successful.

Passing Game

Tony Romo is a very good QB in this league. I’m not going to bomb you with supportive statistics because you’ve all seen them before. Just using the eye test you can see he is very good (not great but very good). He has shortcomings for sure but at the end of the day he’s going to win you more games than he’s going to lose you.

Dec 23, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) throws in the pocket against the New Orleans Saints at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Romo thrives when he can step up in the pocket and has one of the highest QB ratings in the league when it happens. Conversely when pressured up the middle he owns one of the very worst. He cannot be pressured up the middle AND be successful at the same time. That’s a fact. We’ve seen it to be true.

I always minimize the impact of the right tackle because Romo is very good at escaping pressure from the right side.

From a salary cap perspective the Cowboys should invest their money in the middle of the line and on the left side of the line. The right tackle should be a low cost veteran or a young project. I have no idea why they are paying for Doug Free who is neither of those things.

The Cowboys have misappropriated funds and are suffering the consequences. They needed to fix the middle of the line and cut Free on the right side. Instead they drafted 1 rookie to help the middle of the line and kept Doug Free.

The Verdict

Because of how poorly the incumbent starters play, I think 3 will be replaced this offseason. I break it down position by position here__, but I expect Ronald Leary, Travis Frederick, and Jeremy Parnell to start in 2013. If they do, it will be a step in the right direction (they need to earn the spots but also be given an opportunity to earn them). If they do not the Dallas Cowboys are in for a long season. The current starters are simply not good enough to succeed and the Cowboys fear of the unknown is the only thing that could save their underachieving butts. With the Cowboys moving to more of a Zone Blocking Scheme, Frederick, Leary, and Parnell are better suited for these roles anyway.

At the end of the day, I think it will be too little/too late. The Cowboys needed to upgrade at least one offensive guard (ideally 2) but didn’t. The money was there. They didn’t have to franchise Anthony Spencer. The money saved from him could have afforded a suitable replacement at DE and an upgrade at Guard at the same time.

Do you have questions or comments regarding Dallas area sports? Email Reid at [email protected]. You may be included in the next weekly mailbag. Follow Reid on twitter @ReidDHanson

Topics: Dallas Cowboys, DeMarco Murray, Doug Free, Tony Romo, Travis Frederick, Tyron Smith

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  • Patrick Dunn

    Signing FA off the streets is how the middle of the line got so bad. Technically Costa is/was a free agent. I wouldn’t think the team signed Free to half price for him not to play, someone will have to be head and shoulders above him to get that spot. I’m still trying to figure out who’s getting reps at RG with no Bernadeau. And will the team go 3 new starters inside

    • Reid Hanson

      The line got bad because, for some reason, Dallas cannot properly evaluate talent on the O-line. They drafted bad players and then they signed bad players in FA to make up for it. So free agency itself wasn’t the problem it was the poor evaluation that made the Cowboys make poor choices every step of the way.
      Free was going to make his guaranteed money regardless of the restructuring or not. He basically just spread it out rather than get cut and get paid it all right away. It does not ensure a starting spot but sadly I agree with you – Parnell will need to really play well to get the starting spot.
      Its a long shot for sure.
      I personally think Mack gets replaced at RG shortly. He was so bad it must happen. My money is on Leary stepping up and replacing him but we’ll see.

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