It is no secret the Cowboys offensive line has struggled throughout the 2018 season. With a brand new left guard, a fill-in at center, and a new offensive line coach, there were plenty of worries entering the year how this group would play. At times, they’ve played well. Take the Jacksonville game for example, you couldn’t have asked the Cowboys OL to handle that Jacksonville front any better than they did. Fast forward a week later, and they played their worst game of the season, in a game they desperately needed to win. Let’s take a look at the film and see what in the world is going on with the Dallas’ offensive line.
Communication and consistency
We’ve heard multiple times throughout the year that the Cowboys have struggled communicating protections and audibles on offense. That was on display yet again in Sunday’s matchup against the Redskins. There were multiple occasions where an offensive lineman either didn’t block anyone on a play or completely missed their assignment, thinking the play was going elsewhere.
Play 1 - Washington rushes four, and the Cowboys struggling picking up the stunt
This exact play has happened far too often for the Cowboys offensive line this season. For whatever reasons, the Dallas’ tackles and guards have struggled passing these off, without giving up the pressures or the sacks. It didn’t help on this specific play that the only player Joe Looney touched was his own teammate Connor Williams. When watching the play, it looks as if Allen actually holds Williams on the play, but that rarely gets called in the NFL. Both Williams and Smith recognize the twist, but can’t pass it off cleanly which results in a sack.
Regression at multiple positions has killed Cowboys OL
When turning on the tape, it’s not just one or two players who have struggled for the Cowboys. You can look at all five of the lineman and point to mistakes they are making both in the passing game and running game. The sudden regression at multiple spots, and some of the things we’re hearing about people not enjoying Paul Alexander's new technique, leads me to believe that it may not be so much about the players themselves, but the way they are being taught to play.
Play 1 - Collins gets walked back before routes can develop
Dak Prescott was hoping to get the football to Michael Gallup hear who had Josh Norman beat at the top of his route, unfortunately for the Cowboys it did not matter, because Prescott was unable to get the ball off. La’el Collins gets beat here by a straight longarm bullrush from Ryan Kerrigan. Collins gets walked all the way back into Dak Prescott’s lap which forced him to pull the ball down, and try to escape Kerrigan.
Play 2 - Tyron can’t get to his spot and loses against Smith’s speed
It’s not to often you see Tyron Smith get beat with a simple around-the-arch speed rush. Preston Smith does just that without really having to throw much of a move to fight off Smith’s punch. Tyron has struggled this year gaining depth in his initial kick step, which has resulted in him struggling with speed rushers more than he’s used to. If Tyron was able to gain more ground with his outside leg off the snap, he likely could have ridden Preston Smith up the arch and out of the play. Instead, he goes with a short choppy step, and gets beat to his spot. This was an easy win for Preston Smith.
Play 2 - Even after a chip, Preston Smith almost gets home
You know things are bad when you leave a tight end in to chip the pass rusher, and the rusher still hits the quarterback as he’s delivering the football. Tyron allows Smith to get to far into his chest here which allows Smith to get off his initial block, reset, and bend the edge for a clean shot at the quarterback. It seems as if Tyron also lost awareness of how close he was to the pocket/quarterback, and decided to let his guard down a little after the initial contact. Tyron has excellent length, and athleticism, but so far in 2018 he has yet to show that on a consistent basis.
Running games struggles don’t always lead back to loaded boxes
It’s being reported that the Cowboys running game has struggled so much due to the amount of defenders in the box versus the amount of blockers the Cowboys have assigned. While that is a problem on some running plays, sometimes the OL just hasn’t been good enough.
Play 1 - Nowhere to run to the right side
When you watch this play, you’ll notice La’el Collins getting crushed working to get to the second-level. While that is the main cause for concern on this play, you’ll also notice Tyron Smith failing to beat his man to his spot as well. Even if Collins does get to his man and does his job, #54 for the Redskins is right there behind him to make the tackle on Ezekiel Elliott.
Play 2 - Tight End Fail
As you may know, the Cowboys LOVE to ask their TE’s to block in the running game. Unfortunately, they don’t have a guy very good at that task. Surprisingly, it’s Rico Gathers that does a really nice job here turning his man and setting the edge for Ezekiel Elliott. Unfortunately, Connor Williams and Geoff Swaim can’t execute their blocks, and the plays gets blown up before it can even get started. Swaim gets knocked back off the snap, which forces Elliott to bounce the ball further outside than he wanted to, then when you add in Williams failing to reach his man, this play was absolutely doomed as soon as Swaim lost his battle. It’s unfortunate, because Rico Gathers and Zack Martin did a really nice job of winning their matchups on the play.
With a bye week this week, the Cowboys will have an opportunity to regroup and figure things out while still being in the thick of the division race. For the personnel, it is unlikely you’ll see any significant changes, the only real change that could come is letting go of Paul Alexander, and promoting Marc Colombo, thought the opportunity for that has probably come and gone.