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NFL Analyst: "Cowboys Have Built League's Best O-Line."

A Cowboys compliment these days almost always comes with a caveat. In this case the caveat is "Yeah, but where the Cowboys needed help was on defense."

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Mays of points out that after going 30 years without a first-round offensive lineman, the Cowboys haven taken three offensive linemen in the past four drafts.

With the drafting of Martin, the outline of a plan is starting to emerge. The question is whether it’s the right plan. There’s a good chance that if the entire line and Murray stay healthy, the Cowboys will be among the two or three best rushing teams in football.

On paper, it’s true. But the problem with the Cowboys last year wasn’t that they had issues running when they wanted to. It’s that they rarely got the chance.

Mays goes on to point out that in addition to abandoning the run early and often, the Cowboys simply didn't run enough plays, let alone running plays, because their defense just couldn't get off the field. And therein lies the crux of the matter.

The Cowboys may have built the league's best O-line, but did it come at the cost of abandoning the defense? And if the defense doesn't improve from last year (and Mays doesn't believe there's much reason to think that it will), then the Cowboys may not get much of a chance to enjoy their shiny new O-line.

For the first time in a while, Dallas went into this past draft without the line being a top priority. Where the Cowboys needed help was on defense. [...] Whether it was a safety, a defensive lineman, anything, new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli needed some help.

He didn’t get it.

Building one of the best offensive lines in football is a start, but on its own, it isn’t enough. That’s a lesson the Cowboys are probably going to learn the hard way.

On the face of it, this looks like a solid argument. The Cowboys did indeed run the fewest number of plays on offense of any team in the league. The 957 plays the Cowboys ran ranked dead last in the league - right behind the San Franciso 49ers (961 plays), who made it all the way to the NFC Conference Championships, and three spots behind the Seattle Seahawks (973 plays), who beat the 49ers in the NFC Conference Championships en route to a lopsided 48-3 victory over the Denver Broncos.

Not only did the Cowboys run almost the exact same number of plays as two of the best teams in the NFL last year (so the low play total can't have been all that much of an issue), but the Cowboys also scored 439 points, the fifth highest total in the league - and more than the 49ers or Seahawks.

The real issue for the Cowboys offense, and one in which they lag significantly behind both the 49ers and Seahawks, is their third down efficiency on offense, as BTBs Neithan20000 wrote yesterday:

We do need to run the ball more, but that's not the total answer. The truth is, we have to do a better job of converting 3rd downs. In 2013, Dallas ranked dead last in 3rd down conversions per game with 3.9. The best offenses in the league get about six per game. Those two extra first downs would give us at least 6 extra plays a game. Want to know why Cole Beasley has a spot on this team? It's not to convert 1st-and-10, or make a 20-yard play. It's because we need someone who can consistently convert 3rd-and-4. Want to know why we drafted Zack Martin instead of reaching for defense in the 1st round? Because if we can consistently convert 3rd-and-2 with the running game, both our offense and our defense is improved.

And that, in a nutshell, is one of the many, many reasons why it's a good thing to have one of the best O-lines in the league.

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