At 2-3, the Dallas Cowboys are still in the thick of things in the NFC East. Even so, the Cowboys haven't been themselves this season dating back to before Tony Romo and Dez Bryant were put on the shelf. All offseason long the owners and coaches made it known that they ride and die with their offensive line. It's one of the reasons they declined to pay DeMarco Murray the amount of money the Philadelphia Eagles were willing to, they also believed that they had the backs on this roster to carry them to success this season. They were wrong but that doesn't mean they can't get it right.
The offense sans Tony Romo and Dez Bryant has been quite the snooze-fest as of late and that's what vaulted the Cowboys into their bye-week-change-campaign. They have to do something before it's too late or they might as well pack up this season and look forward to the draft. The Cowboys simply cannot roll over with a 35-year-old quarterback, aging tight end, stellar wide receiver and once dominant offensive line. No, they must fight to get back on track and salvage a season where it is still way to early to tell who is going to be taking home the Lombardi come February. That is why the Cowboys have to continue to ride and die with that juggernaut of an offensive line.
First, has the offensive line really played that bad? Perhaps what some of us Cowboys fans consider bad is actually just fine by most standards. For certainty, the pass blocking has been there, they just haven't had the quicker release from their quarterback to match. Dallas has some continuity issues on the line that dates back to missed practices in training camp. Ronald Leary hasn't been healthy, he's nursing a groin injury that even the great Nate Newton would attest is serious business for an offensive lineman. Having a groin strain can really put a damper in your ability to slide, kick and move in the running game. So, now the Cowboys turn to a first-round talent in La'el Collins to take over at left guard next to perennial All-Pro tackle Tyron Smith. PFF seems to love Collins and let the world know in 57 pass attempt blocks so far this season, Collins has not given up a single QB pressure. How about that? It's exciting, but for the Cowboys to get their groove back faster than Angela Bassett in 1998, they must ground-and-pound until they are blue in the face.
If you don't believe that Murray was an exceptional back that's fine by me. However, what he did bring was a physical runner that was going to wear you down before he got tired. That's what the Cowboys hope to do with Christine Michael. It should be known that Michael is not Murray but he's the closet back on the roster to his type of running which is what Jason Garrett wants so badly right now.
Here is how the running game has been since the start of the season. Joseph Randle usually starts until he does something that aggravates the coaches, Darren McFadden comes in after and runs into his own linemen, Michael will roll in for a play when the whole world knows what's coming and then it's usually over. The committee approach has failed this team even though they have had some minor success in games. With Brandon Weeden behind center and no Dez Bryant, not a defense in the world is scared of the Cowboys offense. Some like to use the excuse of stacking the box, but in reality, the Cowboys got stacked against a lot last year and still had success. Running the football is a mind-set, you either have it or you don't. The Cowboys need to get it back. An increase in touches for Christine Michael who has the ability to punish the defense is a great start for Dallas. Sprinkle in the home run abilities of Randle and McFadden after that and you have a recipe for success.
Another variable they will soon have back is Dez Bryant. The hope is that he'll be ready to go after this bye week but there are no guarantees. If Bryant is a go, then that's a shot of life to this offense that not only should make interim starter Matt Cassel happy but just about everyone on that offense, too. Bryant's presence creates the ability to run the ball, he creates the ability to pass the ball, he may even be able to part the red sea but that will have to wait. Bryant is the symphony as Romo is the maestro. However, with just an adequate conductor in Cassel, this offense under Bryant could still make music.
Of course, none of this is possible without a heavy dose of this offensive line. Do they miss Bill Callahan? Maybe. The Cowboys cannot worry about that mess, he's gone. These coaches are good enough to get it out of them. If they want to gain that spark back on the line, the best way is to run behind the rookie Collins on the left side. For this unit, they are only as good as the person next to them, Collins has a knack for finding the second level, use him. He's fresh and young which could really help get Smith back into his normal level of consistency. They have been very good at running off the left side in recent years, a return to that could be a staple for this offense moving forward.
This offense has got to step up and make plays because they have four more games until their leader returns. The defense is starting to play at a higher level but the offense has to give us something. Finding their lost identity in the running game is the best way to help this team from a macro approach. Slow down the game for Cassel by pounding the defense, then let him make the necessary plays to open receivers. Looking back, there is no excuse for this team to be sitting a game under 500. They could have easily been 4-1 or 3-2 more realistically, but that's all behind them now. All they can do is get back on track after their bye week and win some games in order to give Romo a chance when he returns. The time is now for the Cowboys to establish their identity of a ground and pound team behind the envy of the league's offensive line.