We’re going to do this a little bit different this week. Instead of going through every position group and breaking down the good and the bad, were going to zone in on the offensive line. There has been mixed reviews going around the internet on whether or not this offensive line is playing as bad as the statistics say. Let’s take a look at the tape and see if we can find some answers with the Paul Alexander-led group.
Failing to read the read-option
On the first drive of the game the Cowboys received a bit of help from the Seattle defense when they literally walked their “12th man” on the field for a five-yard penalty. This took the Cowboys from a 3rd-and-6, to a 3rd-and-1. In recent years, 3rd-and-short was almost a gimmie for the Cowboys offense, that is not the case anymore. The Cowboys line up in shotgun with Zeke lined up to the right of Dak Prescott. The read-option had worked wonders for the Cowboys the week before so if you guessed that the read-option was coming you were exactly right. The Seahawks also guessed right and forced the Cowboys to punt after losing a yard on 3rd-and-1.
The Seahawks blitz Bradley McDougald, and center Joe Looney decides to block him leaving Bobby Wagner free in the middle. Prescott needs to see that Wagner is moving to the front side of the play pre-snap, and with McDougald also pressed up to the line, that there is an overload on that side. If he pulls the ball he has tight end Geoff Swaim crossing to block on the back side, and he has Allen Hurns coming in for a seal block to give Prescott the edge. On that side of the ball he has three blockers and there are three defenders, he needs to read that and keep the ball. It doesn’t help that on the front-side Connor Williams gets bullied into the backfield and Tyron Smith is unable to hold his block for any length of time.
Pressure from all angles
The Seahawks send a slot-blitz on this play and Zeke Elliott does a nice job of picking it up. Elliott runs the blitzing DB all the way up the field and completely out of the play. Awesome right? Wrong. Zack Martin gets walked all the way back into Dak Prescott’s lap forcing him to step up in the pocket, avoiding the defender’s arm (that should have been a penalty for hitting the QB in the helmet), and throw off balance while avoiding the DE, and running into the side of Tyron Smith. It also looks as if Bobby Wagner was spying Dak Prescott on this play taking his legs out of the equation on third down. Even when the receivers do run some nice routes to create some separation, the offensive line can’t allow the pocket to break down so soon.
This looks to be a misdirection run called by Scott Linehan that could have been very successful if executed the right way. The Seahawks are showing an overloaded blitz to the left side of the offense and the run if supposed to be going right. One problem, no one blocks Frank Clark, and he gets into the backfield before Elliott even touches the football. Tyron Smith is letting him go expecting Connor Williams to pick him up, but Williams gets engaged in a combo block and only realizes there’s a free man running by after it’s too late. The refs missed a hold here on Connor Williams, and Ezekiel Elliott trips over his own feet trying to cut right. A chance for a big play was ruined, due to the offensive line miscommunication.
Poor technique is causing issues for multiple lineman
First off, let me comment on how good of a get jump Frank Clark got on this play. But the truth is, if Tyron Smith gains more depth with his initial kick step he could have handled this speed rush with ease. Instead, Tyron takes almost a chop step here with his first step, and that completely took away all of his chances of making a play against the talented pass rusher. From the looks of it, Smith did not anticipate Clark rushing him to the outside with a speed rush, so he didn’t get his weight moving to his outside foot, and this was an easy sack for Frank Clark. Smith needs to improve his play, this is sloppy for an All-Pro left tackle and one of the better ones in the game.
Elliott, and TE’s have struggled in pass protection
If you’re familiar with the Cowboys coaching staff, you know how much they love having their running backs, tight ends, and receivers block both in the run game, and in the passing game. Unfortunately for the team, they have been atrocious at doing so, so far this year. This will be the second time in three games that Ezekiel Elliott has decided to “cut” a blitzing linebacker in attempts to block them. On the first occasion, the play ended in a sack, on the second occasion, the play ended in an erratic pass to an open receiver. Zeke as to do a better job than this. If Elliott squares the blitzing linebacker up here, it gives Prescott a chance to complete a pass on 2nd-and-7, instead, this ball is thrown inaccurately due to a Prescott having a 250-lb linebacker being catapulted into his face.
The Cowboys offensive issues are not with one player, one unit, or one coach. It is a combination of all three, but if the offensive line can pick up their play just a little bit, that should give the quarterback, running back, receivers, and coaches more chances to make plays. Until then, we will likely see a lot of the same due to the inability to run deep routes, run the ball with consistency, and give a quarterback who isn’t playing with much poise, the ability to bounce back and pick up his play. The Cowboys brought in Paul Alexander to coach up this offensive line, and so far the results have been far from positive. With the team already at 1-2 on the young season, they do not have much time to figure it out.