The Cowboys' Barron Trade: Of Tuckers, Petittis and Big Babys, Oh My!

Opinions of the Cowboys' imminent acquisition of offensive tackle Alex Barron vary wildly.  Fans on this site generally approve of the deal, while at least one Metroplex scribe seems highly dismissive of the move.

I believe a perspective check is in order, a need to curb your enthusiasm, if you appear overly giddy, or your pessimism, if the trade thus far leaves you cold.  Here are two recent scenarios which should bring Dallas' expectation (need?) for Barron into clearer focus.

2005:  Dallas enters camp with playoff hopes.  It anticipates a tackle tandem of Flozell Adams on the left and 2nd-year tackle Jacob Rogers on the right.  Bill Parcells' plans take an early blow when Rogers suffers a year-ending knee injury during training camp.  He's forced to enter the season with 6th-round pick Rob Petitti as his starting right tackle.  The team reasons that it can scheme around one inexperienced player.

The Cowboys offense was up and down the first month and a half but averaged 22.8 points and scored 28 or more points three times.

Then, Flozell Adams tore an ACL in a week-six overtime win over the Giants

Dallas now had to play with two stop-gap tackles.  New LT Torrin Tucker was just as overwhelmed as Petitti and the offense slowly leaked momentum.  It's points per game average dropped from 22.8 to 18.8.  Poor pass protection was the culprit; a line which gave up 2.2 sacks per game with Adams anchoring the blind side hemorrhaged 3.6 sacks per game with Tucker in Flozell's place. 

As OCC and I pointed out countless times last season, sacks are far more damaging to an offense than an offside or a holding penalty.  A flag may set a team back ten yards but it preserves the down.  Then-OC Sean Payton was very good at overcoming first and 20 (as is current OC Jason Garrett). 2nd and 19, is a whole different story.

Pass protection was vital to Dallas' success because cement-footed Drew Bledsoe played quarterback.  Dallas surrendered 49 sacks relying on the backup tackles and finished a win short of the post-season.

1995:  The golden age for the Dallas offensive line.  Four of the team's starters -- LT Mark Tuinei, LG Nate Newton, C Ray Donaldson and RG Larry Allen -- made the Pro Bowl that season.  If RT Erik Williams was not slowed by a rehabbing right knee, the entire line would have gone to Honolulu. 

Center Donaldson was the most pleasant '95 surprise.  The 37 year old former Colt was considered over the hill when the Cowboys signed him to replace Mark Stepnoski, but the wily vet dominated, until he dislocated an ankle in the Thanksgiving Day win over the Chiefs.  The Cowboys were 10-2 after that game, but knew their playoff fortunes rested on backup center Derek Kennard's game.  "

"Big Baby" as he was known, was Jerry Jones' second significant OL signing that spring, lured from the Saints to replace the departed Kevin Gogan.  Kennard battled to maintain an effective weight throughout his career and faded quickly mid-season.  Few noticed because Larry Allen played exemplary football once he became a starter. 

Many noticed, and held their breath, when Kennard took over for Donaldson.  Kennard wobbled, but he didn't fall down.  The Cowboys' running game dropped off from 149 yards-per-game with Donadson to 104 with Kennard in the pivot.  But the superb pass protection continued;  the Cowboys gave up just 18 sacks all year and their sack rate rose just slightly, from .92 per game with Donaldson to 1.2 per game with Kennard.

Kennard could play well in spurts and he brought his A-game for the NFC playoffs.  Dallas averaged 161 rushing yards per game in wins over the Eagles and Packers.  The Steelers corralled the Cowboys in the Super Bowl, holding them to 56 yards rushing, but the Cowboy passing game and Larry Brown's key picks compensated.

     *     *     *     *     *

An offensive line works as a unit, and that unit is only as good as its weakest link.  A line of five average players will play better than one with three Pro Bowlers and a dud or two in the other slots. The '95 line succeeded because Kennard was able to give the Cowboys' league-average performance in Donaldson's place.  The Big Baby represented a drop-off, but only a modest one.  In 2005, by contrast, Tucker's play meant the Cowboys had two replacement-level players to overcome.  Tucker's and Petitti's leaky pass protection sank the good ship Cowboys.

Dallas believes it has average to above average players on its starting line.  They team had no confidence in its depth.  An injury to Doug Free or Marc Colombo would put a Tucker or Petitti-esque player in the lineup.  A 2005 flashback is the organization's nightmare. 

Alex Barron should be viewed in this frame.  He has not been a world beater, but he's been durable and gives Hudson Houck an athletic, 320-pound block of clay to mold.  If Houck can shape another Big Baby, Big Alex Barron will look like a work of art to the Dallas faithful.  To be successful this season, that's all Barron really has to be.

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