As I've said on several other posts, I've taken more hope than disappointment out of the last two games, especially the game on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. Why? It's all because of the marked improvement in the offensive line.
Great Dallas Cowboys teams have always had very strong offensive lines that can push defenses around in the run game and protect the QB in the passing game. Every one of our 8 Super Bowl teams has had at least 3 Pro Bowl offensive linemen, and the majority have had 4 or 5. This is the identity of successful Dallas teams. It's why we were the best team in the NFC in 2007, because we had that O-line in front of Romo. Without the line, the skill players' talents are wasted.
In the offseason, the issue I wanted most fixed was our offensive line. I thought poor line play had kept us out of the playoffs in 2011, and I feared the offense would underachieve again without running lanes for DeMarco Murray and pass protection for Tony Romo. I was not happy when all we did was sign cast-offs Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau, then did nothing in the draft. I wasn't happy when we chose Derrick Dockery over Montrae Holland as a camp signing when injuries decimated our guard corps. About the only thing I was happy about was the signing of Bill Callahan as offensive line coach and offensive coordinator. (I also liked the Ryan Cook signing for depth.) Callahan helped pick Livings and Bernadeau, I had no doubt. But I still wondered whether he would be able to mold this group into the kind of line he molded for the NY Jets.
I think the verdict is starting to come in, and it has the potential to remake the Dallas Cowboys.
The New York Jets hired Callahan in January 2008 as their offensive line coach, and he stayed through 2011. Here's the rushing totals pre- and post-Callahan.
2007. 449 rushes, 1701 yds, 3.8 avg.
2008. 442 rushes, 2004 yds. 4.7 avg.
2009. 607 rushes, 2756 yds. 4.5 avg. Team records. Made AFC title game.
2010. 534 rushes, 2374 yds. 4.4 avg. AFC Title game.
2011. 443 rushes, 1692 yds. 3.8 avg.
Are the Dallas Cowboys trying to match the success the Jets had running the football under Coach Callahan? I believe so. We may not run the ball as much, but I believe the goal is to run the ball as effectively.
That is the Jason Garrett offense. It has to have a strong enough running game to work properly. Without Emmitt and that O-line, Troy Aikman wouldn't have led us to 3 Super Bowl wins. That was Norv Turner's offense, but it's also largely Garrett's.
So far, it's just one game. And certainly the Baltimore defense is not what it once was. But that was still an ass-whupping across the line, and a dramatic improvement from any of the previous four games. It seems obvious the difference has to be Coach Callahan finally getting his guys to move as a unit.
If they keep this up, they will need a name. So I'm offering one up: the Callahan Line. Their success is the key to Dallas's fortunes in 2012.