It shouldn’t have been that shocking that the Dallas Cowboys beat the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night. When this team plays well, they can be a force. Holding the Eagles to just 20 points shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, the Cowboys defense is the stingiest defense in the NFC when it comes to points allowed and let’s face it - the Eagles offense isn’t exactly lighting it up like they were last season.
What was totally surprising, though, is how much of a non-factor Fletcher Cox and Haloti Ngata were on the Eagles interior defensive line. Not only were the Cowboys without their All-Pro center Travis Frederick, but rookie Connor Williams was out with a knee injury, forcing the team to have Xavier Su’a-Filo and Adam Redmond compete for the starting gig last week. And because of a knee injury that caused All-Pro guard Zack Martin to miss some snaps, both of these reserve linemen were thrown into action Sunday night. It had all the makings of a giant mess for this Cowboys offensive line that could have resembled the Atlanta debacle last year where they couldn’t protect Dak Prescott to save their life.
But none of those bad things happened. Instead, it was quite the contrary. Martin returned to man the right guard spot which brought a giant sigh of relief over Cowboys Nation. But it was the play of an unlikely big man that have people buzzing now. Xavier Su’a-Filo (pronounced ZAY-vee-er sue-ah-FEE-low) did a fantastic job at left guard.
You may remember back in 2014 when the Cowboys made the first splash on Day 2 of the draft to trade up to select DeMarcus Lawrence with the 34th overall pick. Well, the Texans had a shot to take Lawrence as they had the first pick of the day, but they had already selected Jadeveon Clowney with the first-overall pick in the draft. So they opted to select Su’a-Filo, who was the second guard taken in the draft after Zack Martin. Su’a-Filo played his entire rookie contract with the Texans, but he never lived up to his draft cost and for that reason - he’s viewed by many as a disappointment. This sounds like a similar song we heard last year when the Cowboys signed former first-round pick Jonathan Cooper. As it turned out, Cooper was solid at left guard and started 13 games for the Cowboys last season.
Over the past two seasons, injuries have plagued the left guard position, but in each instance the reserve has come in and not only played serviceable, but they have stolen the job from the starter. Ron Leary did it to La’el Collins in 2016 and then Cooper last season. Could Su’a-Filo make it three years in a row?
Getting Connor Williams at pick 60 was a great deal for the Cowboys, but the rookie has had his share of struggles this season. Maybe those growing pains could’ve been hidden in between two All-Pro players like Frederick and Tyron Smith, but Frederick hasn’t been around and Smith hasn’t been his typical All-Pro self. As a result, Williams’ struggles in the trenches have hurt the offense at specific times.
Ideally, you want the young player to get his reps so he can develop, but the team must assemble the group that is going to produce the best results on the field. It’s just one game, but it’s very possible that this former 33rd overall pick could be the better choice right now.
Ezekiel Elliott had his largest yards-per-attempt average of the season as he had plenty of holes to run through Sunday night. Su’a-Filo did a good job securing his blocks, opening up running lanes for Zeke. Elliott had two-straight runs for nice gains in the third quarter when he was able to find creases behind Su’a-Filo.
And this continued throughout the night. Look at Su’a-Filo get into the second level and block the linebacker, freeing Zeke up for a big gain.
When Elliott can get some traction going, he’s tough to stop. He had a league-high four runs of 15 yards or greater on Sunday night and now leads all running backs this season with 18 rushing attempts of 15+ yards.
And sometimes the little things can be the difference between a tackle for a loss or a nice gain near the goal line.
Watch Xavier Sua'Filo open up a lane for Zeke. pic.twitter.com/S9uDO6C4qy— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) November 13, 2018
Check out Brian Baldinger’s breakdown where he mentions the play of Su’a-Filo a couple times.
.@dallascowboys @EzekielElliott was too much for the @Eagles on Sunday Night. #XavierSua’Filo was a great addition at LG. I think #Zeke still has his sights set on the “rushing title.” #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/uUcleRGWWu— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) November 12, 2018
It wouldn’t surprise me if Williams recovery ended up taking a little longer than it normally would if the team desperately needed his services. They might as well let him heal up completely and give the veteran more opportunities to see what he can do. Williams has plenty of time to develop his craft, but his on the job training shouldn’t come at the expense of losing football games. Right now, they need a good left guard and it’s very possible that person is Su’a-Filo. If Su’a-Filo can continue to play at the level he did against Philadelphia, that could mean we see more of him down the stretch.
What would you do - stay with Su’a-Filo or go back to the rookie when he’s healthy?