Stood Up: The Cowboys O-Line Can't Finesse the Team into the Win Column

Okay Cowboys fans. 

You got what you've been asking for.  A heavy dose of running.  The final tally was 26 rushes to 30 passes, but in the first three quarters, when the game was tied, the mix was 25 rushes to 18 passes, a '90s-like 58% run to 42% pass ratio.

This was what so many Cowboys pundits predicted in the preseason. a blend to keep all the backs happy.  To take the pressure off Tony Romo, blah, blah, blah.

I told you back in September, this line isn't up to Emmit-ball:

Notice how weak the '08 Cowboys were at the typical "muscle" plays, the type you see in short yardage and goal line. The type the '90s Cowboys lines could execute after a five pints of whiskey and a group afternoon nap.

The character of the current line is very different.  It performs better when it blocks on the move, which explains why Jason Garrett called so many runs from shotgun and spread packages. People complained about seeing the shotgun inside the five last year, but the numbers explain why.

-- Cowboys Tape Review: This is Not Your Father's Offensive Line, BTB, Sept. 30, 2009

The Cowboys romped up and down the field yesterday, between the tens.  They ran effectively against the weak Chargers front using the same plays they've favored all year:  the power counter, the lead draw and the toss.  I counted one Felix Jones isolation early in that star-crossed 2nd quarter drive, which stopped inside the Chargers one.  The rest of the time, the line played in character.

As you saw, lead draws don't work against a goal-line defense.  Counter plays can be run down from the backside.  The Chargers did this to Marion Barber on Dallas' first drive, holding the Cowboys to a field goal. 

When it counted, when the Cowboys were at 2nd, 3rd and 4th and goal at the Chargers one, the Cowboys line could not run the power play, the dive, the isolation, which distinguished those great '90s lines.  Here are the rushing TDs versus passing TD numbers for the '90s teams, the six playoff teams under Johnson and Switzer and the two Chan Gailey teams, which featured several holdovers from those early lines:

Year  Rush TDs  Pass TDs
'91  15  16
'92  20  23
'93  20  18
'94  26  18
'95  29  18
'96  14  12
'98  21  17
'99  16  20

 

Dallas ran for 161 touchdowns and passed for 142 touchdowns in its eight playoff years.  Now, look at the skews in the Parcells' and Phillips' winning years:

Year Rush TDs Pass TDs
'03  11  17
'05  13  23
'06  21  26
'07  14  36
'08  12  29
'09  10  22

 

Granted, today's game skews much more to the pass and the passing TD.  The Cowboys' numbers nevertheless skew too heavily towards the TD pass.  When the Cowboys enter the red zone, it has fallen on Tony Romo to get them six points.  In Romo's three years as a starter, only 29% of Dallas' touchdowns have come on the ground.  All five of Dallas' touchdowns this month have come through the air.

The ballyhooed "three headed monster" (I hate that term) has only nine rushing touchdowns this year.  Yesterday, you saw why.  Their line is not a power line, and as it's comprised, it never will be.  Flozell Adams is 34.  Kyle Kosier, Andre Gurode and Leonard Davis are all 31.  There is no magic reservoir of untapped run blocking mojo a new coach or the current coaches can tap.  These guys are what they are. 

And what they are right now is just good enough to break your heart. 

Yes, the defense lost some snap in the fourth quarter, but the 20 points they allowed was San Diego's season low.  What they never got, and what they should have had in the fourth quarter, was a lead to protect.  But the o-line and Nick Folk combined to deny the Cowboys that key, late-second quarter score which would have raised confidence and of course, tightened the scoreboard.

Let's be clear: you can scream all you want for more Tashard, more overall runs, more this, more that, but as long as we're dealing with the current offensive line, the offense will only go as far as Tony Romo's arm will take it. 

The backs will have to hope that Robert Brewster can join them on the field next year and that Tom Ciskowski can draft a couple more road graders to join him.  The '00s have been a lost decade for the Cowboys offensive line.  It's time for fresher and better straight-ahead-blocking blood.

Notes:

 -- Romo this December:  60 of 85, 71% completions, 5 touchdown passes, 0 picks, and a 112 passer rating. He has just three picks in his last nine games.  The Cowboys are losing this month, but he's the least of the team's worries right now.

-- I think it's time for Nick Folk to visit the asthma field. His miss violated one of the fundamentals of  kicking 101.  Watch your DVR: Folk lifted his head immediately after striking the ball, while still on his follow through.

-- The Chargers pass offense played at a faster speed than any opponent I've seen this year.  How many times did a Cowboys rusher get within an arm's length of Philip Rivers, only to see him release the ball -- and release it accurately -- before he could be sacked? 

-- The special teams continue to run hot and cold.  Felix Jones' opening return went past the 40 but the Cowboys struggled on every other return.  They also had to watch the Chargers' punt coverage group down two punts inside the Dallas three.

-- Count your blessings, Cowboys fans.  I'm sure Demarcus Ware is counting his.  The Lions G Mike Utley was paralyzed from the chest down in 1991 on a play similar to the one that ended Ware's afternoon.  He, like Ware, flashed a thumbs up sign as he was leaving the field.  It's great to hear Demarcus has already been released from the hospital.

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