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Maybe there’s a good reason the Cowboys hired the Bengals’ former OL coach

Film breakdown from Fanrag’s John Owning provides interesting insights.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

There has been much consternation among Cowboys Nation about many of the coaching changes taking place in Dallas. One particular move that brought scrutiny was the hiring of long-time Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive line coach Paul Alexander.

Our own Dave Halpin noted such concerns in a recent post:

Another sign of change? Maybe the recent hire of offensive line coach Paul Alexander. That hire has been met with quite a bit of trepidation from the Cowboys’ faithful. There are definitely stats that would give you pause about the wisdom of the hire. Alexander’s possible success or failure in Dallas is not the focus of this article, but is certainly a debate worth having. What is the focus is the fact that Alexander is a change-agent to some extent. The Cowboys just didn’t go out and hire another devotee of the zone-blocking scheme. Even though the Cowboys run more than ZBS, it is certainly their hallmark, what they’re known for.

While Halprin doesn’t weigh in on the good or bad of the hire, he does note that the Cowboys are probably looking to shake things up with their scheme.

Others have questioned the move outright, like Patrik Walker over at 247Sports:

The problem is it’s historically difficult to morph a ZBS runner into one who does well in the PBS, and it’s an issue furthered by the fact pro bowl linemen Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin have all taken over the league at their respective position thanks to zone blocking. The perennial All-Pros will now be asked to do a 180-degree turn going into 2018, along with Elliott and R. Smith, which doesn’t exactly invoke confidence as it relates to dominating to begin this coming season.

Simply put, this isn’t what was broken -- so why try to fix it?

Well, today we have a differing opinion from John Owning of the Fanrags Sports Network. He agrees that Alexander will bring change as Halprin noted, but is not dismissive of the move like Walker.

Owning, as is his wont, breaks down film to illustrate why he thinks Alexander’s arrival in Dallas might be a good thing.

Do yourself a favor and check out the whole article, as it’s well-written, concise and provides several notable insights. Specifically:

  • The popular narrative regarding Alexander is he primarily runs a power-blocking scheme. In reality, Alexander ran more than 50% zone blocking schemes in Cincinnati.
  • Changes in run-blocking concepts will be subtle and will include more plays with pulling lineman and combination schemes (with one side using man-on-man blocking and the other using a two-man zone scheme)
  • Real change is more likely to come in the pass protection department. Alexander teaches a “low hands” technique designed to keep offensive lineman from losing their balance. In addition, lineman are taught to use their hands independently, rather than together in a traditional two-handed “punch” technique. Owning thinks La’el Collins, in particular, could benefit from this technique.

One last nugget worth noting, using Owning’s own words:

But as unorthodox as his techniques are, it is hard to argue that they aren’t effective — the Bengals, on average, allowed the least amount of QB hits in the NFL from 2009-2015, per Pro Football Focus. This year, Dallas — with three-All-Pros — allowed 26 QB hits (15th most in the NFL) while Cincinnati — a team without a single Pro Bowler on its offensive line — allowed just 10 QB hits (least in the NFL).

It’s an interesting, insightful read and, just maybe, illustrates the Cowboys’ front office might know what they’re doing.