FanPost

Is Tackle (Free) a Bigger Problem than Commonly Viewed?

No one is going to debate that pass protection was a problem last year. The Cowboys were in the bottom half of the league when it came to sacks allowed and that's not including all of the times Tony Romo evaded pressure and was forced to pass on the run. It's been widely accepted that the problem came from the sometimes sporadic interior line play.

The Cowboys addressed the guard position with the signings of two average, at best, guys with good upside and most people would like to see another guard and Phil Costa's replacement drafted in the early to mid rounds.

Still, if you look at the "sacks allowed" stats provided by hosted.stats.com (the stats provider for the NFL) only 7 of the 39 sacks that the team allowed came from the guard position. Even if you were to take away every one of those sacks, the Cowboys would still be just around average when it comes to keeping the quarterback upright.

The real problem last year came mostly from the tackles and no one is really talking about it.

Last season, it seemed like as the run blocking improved, the pass blocking declined dramatically. During that 1-4 stretch to end the season, the Cowboys allowed 19 sacks. That's an average of 4 a game. They only gave up 20 in the other 11 games. The 19 sacks down the stretch doesn't even include the quick pressure that caused Tony Romo to mess up his throwing hand in week 16. The most disgusting thing is that in week 17, even with Romo's beat-up hand, the Cowboys allowed a season high 6 sacks in the most important game of the year.

Before i jump into any opinion as to how to fix the problem, I'd like to established a bit of credibility to the fact that there is a bit of a problem at tackle. Now, I'm going to be basing a large portion of this on the validity of the "sacks allowed" stats on hosted.stats.com.

This company does its research and can be trusted. Most sites that have player stats and box scores are powered by this company. After every CBS broadcast, right after they're done thanking the production staff, they'll usually thank the statistics provider which are these guys. Therefore, I trust their research and I would hope that you would too.

The first thing I wanted to do in order to gauge the success of the Cowboys tackles when it came to pass protection is to see where their "sacks allowed" stats measured up with all other tackles in the NFL that started at least 14 games. I also figured in holds because in most cases holds cost more yards than the average sack. That allows, however, for the numbers to be a bit skewed because some holds occur in the run game, but in general tackles are caught holding while pass blocking.

ALL TACKLES WHO STARTED AT LEAST 14 GAMES IN 2011

Name

Position

Starts

SKS Allowed

Holds

Total

1

Michael Roos, TEN

LT

16

2.00

0

2.00

2

Duane Brown, HOU

LT

16

2.50

0

2.50

2

Jason Peters, PHI

LT

14

2.50

0

2.50

4

Andre Smith, CIN

RT

14

2.00

2

4.00

5

Joe Thomas, CLE

LT

16

3.50

1

4.50

5

David Stewart, TEN

RT

15

3.50

1

4.50

7

Jermon Bushrod, NO

LT

16

3.00

2

5.00

7

Jeremy Trueblood, TB

RT

15

5.00

0

5.00

9

Erik Pears, BUF

RT

16

3.50

2

5.50

9

Jordan Gross, CAR

LT

15

3.50

2

5.50

11

Joe Staley, SF

LT

16

6.00

0

6.00

12

Khalif Barnes, OAK

RT

16

3.50

3

6.50

13

Tyson Clabo, ATL

RT

16

5.00

2

7.00

13

Barry Richardson, KC

RT

16

5.00

2

7.00

13

Matt Light, NE

LT

15

3.00

4

7.00

16

Kareem McKenzie, NYG

RT

16

6.50

1

7.50

17

Brandon Albert, KC

LT

16

5.00

3

8.00

18

Todd Herremans, PHI

RT

16

4.25

4

8.25

19

Charlie Johnson, MIN

LT

16

9.00

0

9.00

20

Anthony Davis, SF

RT

16

9.50

0

9.50

20

Bryant McKinnie, BAL

LT

16

8.50

1

9.50

20

Jeromey Clary, SD

RT

16

7.50

2

9.50

20

D'Brickashaw Ferguson

LT

16

9.50

0

9.50

20

Jeffery Linkenbach, IND

RT

16

8.50

1

9.50

20

Andrew Whitworth, CIN

LT

16

5.50

4

9.50

26

Donald Penn, TB

LT

16

9.00

1

10.00

26

Gosder Cherilus, DET

RT

16

9.00

1

10.00

28

Marc Colombo, MIA

RT

16

10.5

0

10.50

28

Wayne Hunter, NYJ

RT

16

8.50

2

10.50

28

Eugene Monroe, JAX

LT

14

9.50

1

10.50

31

Michael Oher, BAL

RT

16

5.75

5

10.75

32

Jared Veldheer, OAK

LT

16

4.00

7

11.00

33

Jeff Backus, DET

LT

16

8.50

3

11.50

34

Orlando Franklin, DEN

RT

16

8.00

4

12.00

35

Tyron Smith, DAL

RT

16

9.50

3

12.50

35

Levi Brown, ARI

LT

16

11.5

1

12.50

35

Eric Winston, HOU

RT

16

7.50

5

12.50

38

Phil Loadholt, MIN

RT

16

9.50

4

13.50

39

Doug Free, DAL

LT

16

9.50

5

14.50

40

Ryan Clady, DEN

LT

16

9.00

7

16.00

41

J'Marcus Webb, CHI

LT

16

14.00

4

18.00

I'll chalk Tyron Smith's slight struggles up to the fact that he was a rookie in the division with the best pass rushers in football. We all watched him play and can agree that he rarely made huge mistakes. Doug Free on the other hand was simply awful in pass protection. That's not an opinion. When you are ranked 39 out of 41 tackles when it comes to keeping you're quarterback upright, that typically means you had an awful year, especially when you've been entrusted to protect the quarterback's blind side.

If you're the type of person who doesn't put much stock into numbers, I put together a little video of Doug Free looking lost in pass protection. His man doesn't get the sack on every play but just keep your eye on the left tackle, number #68.

If you watched the video, a few things jumped out. First off Doug Free was beaten repeatedly by NFC East pass rushers. Jason Pierre-Paul in particular ate him alive. JPP moves around the defensive line a lot and even though Free will move to the right side, he hasn't seen the last of him.

Moving him to over to the right tackle next season also exposes him to pass rushers like Jason Babin, the young but good Ryan Kerrigan, Lamar Woodley and potentially Clay Matthews if you're trying to make a deep playoff run. The best year of his career was in 2010 when he only allowed 5 sacks and wasn't flagged for a hold until week 13 against Dwight Freeney. He stayed completely healthy in 2011 so there's really no explanation for the drop-off.

Generally speaking, tackles don't have down years and then rebound the next like a receiver or running back might because they don't depend too much on the positions around them. For that reason, I don't really see him returning to 2010 form. It's possible that opposing teams have been able to pick up on his weaknesses and better adjust.

My Solution Theory

All the criticisms that I just went over concerning Doug Free all involved his pass protecting ability. As far as run blocking and his ability t move laterally and pull-out block, I think he's among the league's best. One of the first memories I have of Doug Free was him running along side Felix Jones 50 yards down the field. Therefore, I suggest this.

Think of Leonard Davis for a second. Davis was drafted by Arizona second overall and underachieved at tackle for six years there. He simply wasn't a great pass blocker. He comes to Dallas, switches to guard, and is playing in the probowl after his first year.

Davis was regarded as a bust in Arizona but his career high in sacks allowed (7.5) wasn't as much as Free gave up last year (9.5).

I don't like doing this but I'm going to reach at a theory that has no indication of actually happening. There are a lot of players in this draft that can play either tackle or gaurd. Cordy Glenn comes to mind as well as Amini Silatolu, Kelechi Osemele, and Brandon Brooks. Maybe you take one of the latter three in the second and see how Free does next year at right tackle.

If Free does well at right tackle, kick the guy over to gaurd. If not kick Free to gaurd and slot the pick into the right tackle spot. Quite frankly, Free has very good tools to be a gaurd. You might say that Free makes too much, but in 2007 Leonard Davis was brought in on a 7 year 50 million dollar deal to play strong side gaurd.

I think even Cordy Glenn could be a real possibility. Reading rumors and listening to live mock drafts have made it apparant that Cordy Glenn is falling. If he's there at 31, maybe the Patriots would take the Boys' 2 and a 4 for that pick and let us move up for Glenn? The Pats love to trade down.

I know this idea is far fetched, but there are few pints concerning the draft that haven't been beaten to death already, so don't kill me in the comments.

But please comment and recommend!

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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