The Concern Over The Dallas Cowboys Offensive Line And Protection

This is a unit that needs a bit of enhancement. Rookie right tackle Tyron Smith has been as advertised. Tyronasaurus has been impressive in pass protection and hasn't been a liability in the run game. His counterparts however are hurting this team, figuratively and literally.The running game has been nowhere to be found, as the team is averaging a miniscule 54.5 yards a game and a league worst 2.3 yards per carry.

Here was my devil's advocate thought as part of my 'Year of The Yuglies' post near the end of the offseason:

-- Are the Cowboys making a mistake with the line? Here are the two prevailing ‘devil's advocate' thoughts. It's just the preseason, so the likes of Phil Costa and Bill Nagy haven't been tested under regular season fire. Even if they look solid in practice, what's to say the defense they face is up to snuff with the defenses they'll see during the regular season? A lot of what ifs to ponder, but the guts to roll the dice is commendable. Necessary, but still commendable. Caveats: Gurode's declining performance, no suitable options at guard.

Early results are in, and the Cowboys defense does look comparable to the league's best, but the O Line isn't holding up to their preseason performance. LG Bill Nagy was benched after the Jets game. He returns this week because his ineffective replacement, Derrick Dockery, is injured. They've combined for a -9.5 PFF cumulative grade over only two games. When Romo was hurt on the third play of the game, Doug Free and Kyle Kosier were owned by the 49ers defensive line. They only brought four, though they showed blitz.

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Youth in blocking led to an early ending to the quarterback's season last year. This year, it caused him a fractured rib and punctured lung in week 2.

According to PFF, Romo faces pressure on almost 37% of all of his dropbacks, ninth highest in the league heading into week 2. He's been sacked 5 times already in 2011. In his truncated 2010, Romo was only sacked seven times in six games. Even after his return to the game, Romo was hit time and time again as he was releasing the ball. Obviously Romo is pretty good at getting the ball out under pressure, as he proved time and time again last Sunday, but I'm sure he'd appreciate some help.

There is still a gaping hole at the fullback for the second consecutive year. Even the tight ends are receiving bad protection grades.

For the team to win this game and capitalize on the opportunity in front of it, they have to have a solution to combat the Redskins 3-4 defense. Romo and the Cowboys are facing their third consecutive 3-4 scheme when they line up against Jim Haslett's boys.

After week two, San Francisco and the NY Jets were ranked 1st and 8th respectively in Defense Run DVOA according to Football Outsiders. The Redskins were ranked 32nd, dead last. Before you laugh, know that the Cowboys run offense is also ranked dead last by FO. Washington's pass defense has been playing exceptionally well, ranked 4th.

With all of these elements combining, I'd expect Dallas to try and use swing passes to the running backs and slants by the receivers to their advantage tonight. I also expect to see a return of the Garrett draw, which was a staple of the team before last season. It will need to be utilized to slow down the pass rush as the Redskins try to get as many hits in as possible. I'd say that we need to implement a heavier dose of screen plays, but even though the line is more athletic than ever, they haven't done a great job of locating the man to block when in space.

Granted, this is a small sample size. Again, the defenses faced have been stout, but there are only seven more 'two-game stretches' left in the season. The play calling might need to cater to the deficiencies the offensive line is showing in the early part of the season.

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