After taking their traditional “don’t touch little Stevie, it’s too hot!” approach to free agency, the Dallas Cowboys have their work cut out for them in this week’s NFL Draft. With more needs than resources, the Cowboys will need to pick and choose what positions to address and what to neglect.
But one position they can’t afford to avoid. Not if they hope to compete in 2022 that is…
Nothing matters this season if the Dallas Cowboys don’t fix their offensive line.
Last season was a tale of two halves for Dallas. The first half of the season the Dallas Cowboys were the best offense in the NFL, on pace to break league records, and stacked with layers upon layers in weapons. The defense was improving daily and the team looked destined for greatness.
After the bye week things cratered. The offense couldn’t do anything right and their league-leading numbers started to wade in the waters of “average” territory. Ezekiel Elliott couldn’t find a hole if his life depended on it and Dak was getting smothered by shell coverages and relentless pursuit.
Receivers didn’t have time to get open and the offense had to lean on short passes to the TE and WR screens just to find breathing room. It was becoming clearer and clearer something fundamental was broken and it didn’t take long to identify that fundamental breakdown – it was the offensive line.
The Dallas Cowboys offensive line
The Dallas Cowboys offensive line struggled across the board. Tyron Smith struggled, Connor Williams struggled, Tyler Biadasz struggled, Terence Steele struggled, La’el Collins struggled, and even Zack Martin had an uncharacteristically disappointing stretch.
The Dallas Cowboys played musical chairs at guard with “the Connors” and ultimately settled for the least terrible option (the option who’s no longer an option this season). Right tackle was a mess from the start with the Dallas Cowboys decision makers arguing between Collins and Steele all season long (a disservice to both players and a baseball bat to the continuity of the line). It should be no wonder the offensive line was a mess.
What happened to the Dallas Cowboys offense?
Dak is one of the very best passers in the NFL against the blitz, so teams decided to stop blitzing and start playing shells. This would mean Dak no longer had those quick-read big plays staring him in the face and he’d have to wait for his plays to develop downfield. No problem, right? Wrong. Even without blitzing extra players defenses were getting immediate pressure against the Dallas front
Before the Dallas WRs could make their breaks and create separation, Dak was under pressure. Four man defensive lines were routinely causing havoc and Dak found himself on the run before anyone could break open. To make matters worse, Dak was playing on a bad leg (torn calve) and couldn’t move as well as he had earlier in the season.
The Dallas Cowboys tried to adjust by running the ball more. The running game proved to be even worse. The Cowboys offensive line couldn’t open holes and Zeke finished the second half of the season with a negative EPA and negative success rate (his carries hurt the team more than helped the team).
Every offensive issue stemmed from the offensive line and injuries and constant voluntary player rotations didn’t help.
If the Dallas Cowboys want to improve from last season they know exactly what needs to be addressed first: The O-line. It doesn’t matter if you have all the pass-catching talent in the world, if you don’t have time to pass the ball, they are pointless.
It applies to the running game as well. Zeke and Tony Pollard are one of the best one-two punches in the NFL, but if they don’t get lanes to run though, it doesn’t matter how good they are.
The Dallas Cowboys hope a healthy Tyron Smith and Zack Martin will be back to their dominant selves in 2022. They hope Terence Steele will continue to develop at RT as well. They don’t have any good options at LG and the jury is still out on their starting center Tyler Biadasz.
If the Dallas Cowboys want to compete in 2022 they need to fix the interior of their offensive line. They NEED a plug-and-play left guard early and they could certainly use some competition for Biadasz at center.
One way or another they need to solve their issues on their offensive line. They could draft a guard in round one or two, or they could draft a tackle and use him temporarily as a guard. Whatever they do, it has to work in order for them to compete in 2022.
Nothing matters if that offensive line isn’t fixed this offseason