When the Cowboys kick off against the Falcons later today, they will start one of the youngest O-lines in the league. With La'el Collins set to start at left guard, the following lineup will be a combined 125 years old:
Tyron Smith (24) - La'el Collins (22) - Travis Frederick (24) - Zack Martin (24) - Doug Free
Three of those linemen were named first-team All Pros last year, including Zack Martin, who became the first rookie offensive lineman in the Super Bowl era to be named first-team All Pro. Four of those linemen have a first-round pedigree and are still under 25 years of age. And all five of those linemen will be counted on this afternoon, even more than in previous games, to help deliver a Cowboys victory.
But this was not the lineup the Cowboys had necessarily planned to start the season with. The Week 1 starter at left guard was Ronald Leary, who will sit out today with a groin injury. The 26-year old Leary would have brought the combined age of the Cowboys O-line up to 129 years.
But injuries happen, and teams constantly have to change their lineups. With that in mind, I looked at the Week 2 starters for all 31 other NFL teams to figure out just how young the Cowboys O-line is relative to their NFL peers. Here's how all NFL teams compare in total combined O-line age, based on the Week 2 starters and their age as shown on the Ourlads.com depth charts:
|Rank||Team||Tot. Age||Rank||Team||Tot. Age||Rank||Team||Tot. Age|
Keep in mind that because there are only five guys counting against the total of each team, having an older veteran on the line can give a false impression if you only look at the total.
A few years ago ESPN's John Clayton came up with what he called the "Theory of 150." Clayton explained that if the combined age of your starting offensive line exceeds 150 years, you should expect a decline in performance. Why 150 as a cutoff point? A combined age of 150 years means the average age of your linemen is 30 years, and that 30-year age-limit also chimes nicely with the widely held belief that for NFL players, decline inevitably sets in at age 30.
The Cowboys are on the correct side of the age curve, but youth for the sake of youth is not necessarily going to help you win games. Notice how a lot of the teams with young O-lines are struggling this year.
Today, the Cowboys will need the O-line more than ever to help them win the game against the Falcons. The O-line needs to reliably open up running lanes for the running backs. And the O-line will need to give Brandon Weeden enough time to help the QB avoid mistakes and make the safe throws.
Last year, the line run-blocked for the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year, who led the league with 1,845 rushing yards. And the line pass-blocked for a QB who led the league with a 113.2 passer rating.
But without Tony Romo, the line may face its biggest test yet. Are they up for the challenge?