The Dallas Cowboys and their left guard situation

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

On Friday, Dallas Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones told 105.3 the Fan that Connor McGovern would start at left guard this Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs. A wave of applause was likely felt over Cowboys’ Twitter as the “inevitable” finally happened.

Ever since Connor McGovern was drafted in 2019, fans have been waiting for him to replace Connor Williams. Williams’ rookie season had its ups and downs, as most rookies experience, but a random narrative developed in that he was fairly bad because the Cowboys were able to get by with Xavier Sua’Filo replacing him during injury. What was seen as “better play” was just matchups against weaker competition.

The obvious issue with that was Williams was definitely not as bad as people thought and Xavier Sua’Filo was a product of his situation. If it wasn’t glaringly obvious, the fact that Sua’Filo signed with Cincinnati and hasn’t been much help as a starter shows just how much people overrated him in his time here. Regardless of how that ended up, that didn’t stop people from believing that Williams was a liability on the offensive line when he hasn’t ever been the weakest link.

Things progressively got worse for the Williams’ narrative as in 2019, Cowboys fans were hopeful that he’d be replaced by McGovern. Williams had gotten stronger and was clearly making a bigger impact, especially in the running game, but that couldn’t stop wishful thinking. When I watched his 2019 game tape, I actually came away surprised that he was playing quite well.

In 2020, Williams ended up being the best offensive linemen on the roster to play more than 13 games and played better than McGovern while they played together on the same offensive line. Still, the narrative kept gaining traction even though Williams was playing the best football of his career and there was actual video evidence supporting this claim.

Now in 2021, Williams is getting replaced by his biggest critic’s champion horse. Connor McGovern was a good product coming out of Penn State displaying a good body type and great athletic ability. When the Cowboys drafted him in 2019, he was touted as an incredible steal by the team apparently being ranked higher on the team’s board than Trysten Hill and now Kansas City Chief Juan Thornhill, the other prospect the Cowboys were keying in on with their first pick of that draft.

I’ve written several times about what Connor McGovern brings as an offensive lineman, but almost every time I have mentioned that he wasn’t better than Connor Williams. In short, Williams is more consistent with his footwork which allows him to play speed and counter rushes better, while McGovern’s greater upper body strength allows him to deal with power assuming he engages at the point of attack correctly. (This is partly why Williams will randomly dominate Aaron Donald from time to time)

However, here we are entering week 11 and Connor Williams, for all the pass setting and matching, keeps finding himself in bad situations with penalties. His 13 penalties are league-leading and only eight of them have been holding calls. ( I question the validity of at least three of them, but that’s not really the point)

Even with his double-digit penalties, he still has the eighth-highest pass-blocking efficiency in the league at 98.5 percent while allowing only 10 pressures all season placing him sixth among guards who’ve played more than 50 percent of their team’s snaps. Broken down, his stats are quite incredible. It’s just the penalties…

The worst part about the penalties is Williams doesn’t have a penalty-riddled past. In 2019 and 2020, he was responsible for five accepted penalties in each season. He’s already equaled his penalty total from both seasons in half of the 2021 season. This season has definitely been an outlier in that department.

Williams’ play is reminiscent of me playing the NCAA Football games on my console. I can maintain high levels of passing and rushing efficiency, but the moment my quarterback throws an interception or my running back fumbles everything feels like it’s combusting. (And then I look at the scoreboard and remember I’m leading by 17)

The Cowboys’ offense seems to have that feel as well. The team is currently playing incredibly efficiently so any penalty thrown their way will absolutely have a negative impact on any drive. The ten yards the team has to give up on an early down is absolutely not an equal exchange for an incomplete pass as a result of pressure. (In fact, the team might be able to get a roughing the passer call in their favor due to the general inconsistency at play)

Williams is averaging over a penalty per game and almost all his penalties have been over ten yards. That means the Cowboys are having to account for an extra ten yards at some point in the game with the chance that these penalties come at really problematic times.

Fortunately, this is a problem the Cowboys might be able to fix for the foreseeable future. It is very likely McGovern doesn’t maintain the efficiency of Williams, but if he can get away with better hand placement the Cowboys have a quarterback who is good enough to maneuver through pressure and create out of the structure. The only problem, in his limited sample size of one game McGovern earned a holding penalty.

So what’s the deal with the Dallas Cowboys left guard situation?

This team is clearly in pursuit of high offensive efficiency. They will try eliminating absolutely all controllable variables in pursuit of an offense that can beat anyone. Changing Williams for McGovern is proof of this belief.

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Dallas has decided that the best player at left guard for them is the “lesser of two evils”. (Both of these players are legitimate starting guards, don’t get my words twisted) Hopefully, this experiment works out for all parties involved because it means the Cowboys will have one of the best guards in football as their new backup guard. That’s not too bad all things considered?

  • Published on 11/20/2021 at 14:34 PM
  • Last updated at 11/20/2021 at 14:34 PM