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Cowboys offensive line issues persist, they have three practices to get them fixed

It’s not just pass protection that is suffering.

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NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

What was once a strength is now a liability, at least in Week 1 of the 2018 season. The Dallas Cowboys offensive line was at one time considered among the best in the league and that ranking was legit. That kind of play, though, has not been present for a while, and on Sunday against the Panthers the offensive line was a huge problem. The Cowboys face the Giants on Sunday night, so they have three practices this week to right the wrongs, or things could get ugly.

Dallas made a move along the offensive line yesterday, signing free agent guard Xavier Su’a-Filo to a two-year contract.

After working out for the team last week, veteran offensive lineman Xavier Su’a-Filo signed a two-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys that includes a $50,000 signing bonus.

To make room for Su’a-Filo, the Cowboys released Kadeem Edwards, who served as a backup lineman in the season-opening loss to the Carolina Panthers.

The Cowboys problems on the offensive line included rookie left guard Connor Williams, who gave up two sacks on Sunday and struggled at various times holding down the middle of the line. The Cowboys certainly didn’t sign Su’a-Filo to replace Williams now, but they did pick up a veteran with 41 games of starting experience in the NFL. It’s not inconceivable that down the road something could happen if Williams continues to struggle. The Cowboys may have to test the waters.

Here’s the interesting though, Su’a-Filo could be a cautionary tale about what we’re getting with Williams. See if this sounds familiar. A very athletic college tackle with strength issues, and because of size/arm length should shift to guard in the pros. The player is drafted in the second round with high expectations for the future.

Is that Su’a-Filo or Williams? It’s both. And so far, Su’a-Filo’s NFL career hasn’t taken off.

We’ll look at Pro Football Focus grades on Su’a-Filo but we also urge caution, PFF is not the only voice on these things, and Su’a-Filo has started 41 games, so there are coaches who keep running him out there. Still, this is not encouraging.

Su’a-Filo followed suit [in 2017], ranking 77th among qualifying guards with his overall grade of 35.8.

Or this:

– Xavier Su’A-Filo

Never earned a 50.0 PFF grade through four seasons before leaving for Tennessee in the offseason.

After the Texans let him go in free agency, the Titans picked him up. Our sister site, Music City Miracles, picks up the thread.

Su’a-Filo was the top pick in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL Draft when the Texans grabbed him at 33rd overall as a uber-athletic lineman from UCLA. He played left tackle for the Bruins, but was always projected as a guard in the NFL due to his height and length at just 6’-4” with 33 3/8” arms. Most saw him as a 1st or 2nd round pick.

In 2016 and 2017 his ability to stay healthy improved, but his play did not. His PFF grades in his four year career are 43.4, 42.8, 44.9, and 35.8. That 35.8 grade was better than just two qualifying guards in 2017 — Ethan Pocic and Jeremy Vujnovich. Not great.

While his PFF grades certainly don’t reflect it he was regarded as a pretty solid run blocker during his time in Houston. His struggles primarily came in pass protection where he too often lunged at his opponent, getting off balance and giving up an easy pressure.

That last line perfectly describes some of the same issues Williams has in his game. Sometimes he dips his head and lunges when the defender makes a move, but he also has trouble standing up to a bull-rush. Where Williams looks best is when he can get on the move in run-blocking, and while he did struggle some in pass protection on Sunday, anybody who plays Kawann Short is likely going to have some plays that look very bad.

It should be noted that Williams wasn’t the only issue on the offensive line on Sunday. La’el Collins really started to struggle later in the game when the quickness of the Panthers defensive ends started to win out. Collins has yet to effectively lock-down the right tackle spot in a way that says he’s the future, and despite his lofty status coming out of college, he just may never be a top-notch tackle. Sometimes you wonder if the Cowboys would have been better off leaving him as a guard.

Then there is Tyron Smith. Sunday was a bad game for the All-Pro tackle. Was it rust? Is something else going on? Whatever the case, if Smith plays anything like he did on Sunday going forward, it’s going to be a long season.

Then again, after the Giants game, this whole narrative could change. There is nothing more unpredictable than Week 1 in the NFL. As has been noted, the Cowboys recent playoff seasons started with a loss in Week 1. You can’t depend on that coincidence being an accurate indicator of the team, but it does show you that Week 1 is prone to knee-jerk reactions that look silly a month from now.

Now going 0-2 is a different story. The Cowboys offensive line has this week to rectify their issues.

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