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Shoot the Messenger Guards. Dallas Falls to Seattle, 13-10

The mantra is thick on the threads here and I imagine it's the same on Metroplex radio: "the play calling was too conservative." "Parcells is playing not to lose." "Sean Payton has play- calling dementia," or some far less polite description.

I'm sticking to assessing the team's execution. Why look for a complex explanation when a simpler one is at hand? And Sunday, there was a brutally simple explanation for the 13-10 loss. A brutally ugly explanation.

The offensive line sucked.

Seemingly not alarmed by its poor protection against the Giants, the line regressed even further. It was not only the frequency of the protection breakdowns that's alarming, but the incredible timing; the sacks and penalties were evenly spaced, and placed for maximum damage. Submitted for your consideration:

Drive one: Dallas starts inside its ten, thanks to a Terence Newman interception, but moves smartly outside the 30. Al Johnson then bounces a center snap off his own thigh. Dallas recovers, but it's the second time in two weeks that Johnson opens the game bungling a snap. They punt two plays later. It's hard to get a hot start when you can't even get the ball to your QB.

Drive three: One series after Dallas has driven for a 7-0 lead, the offense is zipping again, moving from it's own 14 to the Seattle 47 in six plays. But Rob Petitti gives up a seven yard sack on second and nine, blowing up a promising drive and earning a loud sideline lecture from his coach.

Drive five: On a third and two from the Dallas' 40, Sean Payton sends in this week's special. The Cowboys line up in a diamond backfield, with Marion Barber as the I back and Jason Witten and Lousaka Polite in offset fullback positions behind the left and right guards. At the snap both Witten and Polite go left. Barber takes one step left, faking a toss, then runs right where Andre Gurode and the right side of the line are setting up a screen. He takes the pass 22 yards to the Seattle 38. The play is negated by a needless holding call against RG Marco Rivera, who hooked Seattle CB Jimmy Herndon with his right hand. Dallas has to punt.

The results got even worse in the second half:

Drive one -- facing a third and five, Bledsoe is sacked. Dallas punts.

Drive two -- facing a third and two, Bledsoe is sacked. Dallas punts.

Drive four -- facing a third and goal from the four yard line, Dallas spreads the field with a three WR, one-back set, with Witten set right. At the snap, Witten cuts inside the Seattle safety, who falls down. The linebacker playing the short zone in front of Witten runs to his left to help cover the slot receiver, opening a huge lane between Bledsoe and Witten. Witten was all but doing jumping jacks in the middle of the end zone. Bledsoe could have shot putted the ball to him.

And if he had the protection he enjoyed the first month of the season, he would have. Today, he never saw Witten, because both his tackles were bullrushed into his lap. Seahawks ends Grant Wistom and Bryce Fisher met at the quarterback, sacking Bledsoe for the third time in the half and forcing a chip shot field goal that Jose Cortez promptly missed.

Bad play calling? I don't think so. Your Pro Bowl TE is wide open. Conservative? Perhaps. But know that this was only the sixth pass play Dallas had called that half. And yet it was the line's third sack allowed.

You can call me conservative too, but if my line is letting my QB get sacked 50% of the time I call pass, I'm not going to throw more, not when the defense is again playing well and the score is only 7-3. In addition, the situations don't afford an excuse. Bledsoe was not holding the ball trying to complete third-and-18s, or third-and-20s. This is probably why Payton and Parcells ran the ball when Dallas faced third and short the remainder of the game.

The truly sad fact is that the crumbling protection is also eroding Bledsoe's confidence. The one offensive constant of the first five games has suddenly and frighteningly regressed into FrankenDrew, the monster from Buffalo with the club feet and tunnel vision, who locks onto receivers and rushes throws. He forced three passes to Terry Glenn today when Glenn was double covered. Two were intercepted. He hurried a pass to Keyshawn Johnson in the second quarter when Johnson's corner had fallen down. The incompletion was a sure touchdown, as Seattle was blitzing and had nobody in the deep middle.

The irony of the line's passing meltdown is that it was having its best run blocking day of the year. Marion Barber had the best day of any Cowboys rusher in '05, gaining 95 yards on 22 carries. Tyson Thompson averaged a guady 5.7 yards on his six carries. The offense averaged 4.2 yards per run, its best of the year against a defense that stacked eight and often nine players to stop it.

If there is a postive to take from this forgettable afternoon it's this: The line has protected Bledsoe well before. There is no reason to believe it cannot again, especially with the bye coming up after the Cardinals game. The line has not run blocked consistently and today it did. If that extra week can put both phases of the line's play into balance, the second half and the season can be saved.

But the fix needs to come soon. The antacid supplies in Cowboys Nation can't be sustained at this current pace.

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