It wasn’t all that long ago when the best offensive line in football title was given to the Cowboys. In 2016, they won the inaugural Built Ford Tough Offensive Line of the Year award and had Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick in peak form. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott took the NFL by storm that year, and it seemed like the good times would last forever.
They didn’t. Don’t get it wrong, over the past couple of year the Cowboys offensive line has been good, but they haven’t been the dominant unit they were during that peak. Last year, with Fredrick missing the entire season, Martin and Smith dealing with some nagging injuries, and Connor Williams/Xavier Su’a-Filo trying to man the left guard spot, things were a little spotty. The Cowboys gave up 56 sacks in the regular season, second-worst in the league. A little of that is on Prescott who can sometimes hold the ball too long and refuses to throw it away on occasion, but much of it was on a patchwork offensive line. Football Outsiders ranked the Cowboys 28th in pass blocking, a terrible number for a group with so much talent.
Don’t despair, though, as a rebound looks to be ahead. Frederick will be returning to the lineup, and Connor Williams is said to be bigger and stronger this year, a necessity as he had trouble dealing with bull rushes and allowed the interior of the pocket to collapse. Having a better Williams along with Frederick instead of Joe Looney should do much to improve the stability in the interior.
Two offensive line rankings have the Cowboys near the top, but not quite back in the top position they once owned.
2. DALLAS COWBOYS
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP:
Left Tackle: Tyron Smith
Left Guard: Connor Williams
Center: Travis Frederick
Right Guard: Zack Martin
Right Tackle: La’el Collins
Zack Martin and Tyron Smith have been long-time members of the league’s club of elite offensive linemen, but have had to pick up slack along the offensive line on account of recent struggles. Dallas was top-10 in interior pressure allowed from 2014 to 2017 until Travis Frederick’s injury. His return, paired with hopeful improvement from rookie-turned-sophomore Connor Williams, should aid in the unit’s recovery to its former glory.
According to these rankings, the NFC East is the place for stellar offensive line play. The Cowboys are number two, but are beaten out in the rankings by the Philadelphia Eagles who land the top spot for another year. Honestly, it’s a tough call between the two units, and having them as the top two lines in the league seems fair. For the record, New York comes in at #18 and Washington at #14.
In another ranking, this one from CBS Sports, the Cowboys are third.
The Cowboys used to have the league’s best offensive line. Now, they only have one of the league’s best offensive lines. A bad back has plagued Tyron Smith in recent years. Travis Frederick battled Guillain-Barre syndrome all of last season. Connor Williams dealt with a knee injury. Zack Martin also had to overcome a knee issue. According to Football Outsiders, the Cowboys ranked 28th in pass protection, although they fared much better as a run-blocking unit, ranking eighth. If they can get healthy, the Cowboys have a chance to reclaim their spot atop the table.
The Cowboys pass protection was a real issue last year and has to improve this season. Some of that can be helped by the offensive coaches. If Kellen Moore can disguise the play call, he can make the defense think for an extra second. If Jon Kitna can help Prescott get through his reads quicker and get the ball out of his hands faster, that will also help. They all can play a part, but in the end it will come down to the five guys up front to improve. As has been said many times, having Frederick back is the key.
In the CBS Sports ranking the Cowboys are third, one spot behind the Eagles at second (the Steelers were first). Again, the Cowboys and Eagles are so close in quality along the offensive line that the two units should help shape a very competitive NFC East race.