When Mike McCarthy took to the podium and was introduced as the new Cowboys head coach, he did so with the expectation that he’d inherit an elite offensive line. Travis Frederick had just made a triumphant return from Guillain-Barré syndrome, La’el Collins had taken the next step from good right tackle to elite level, and there were the two future Hall of Famers in Tyron Smith and Zack Martin.
Then life happened. Frederick retired a couple months later. Collins started the year on the injured reserve and never made it back. Smith only appeared in two games through the first four weeks before being shut down for the season. Martin missed a game with a concussion, had to move to right tackle out of necessity, and is now going to miss at least a couple more games. Even rookie Tyler Biadasz, who played well enough to steal the starting center role from veteran Joe Looney, is on the injured reserve now.
To say this line has been decimated in 2020 would be an understatement. Back in October, we pointed out how offensive line coach Joe Philbin was doing a phenomenal job of handling all these changes to his line, and that’s still true today. While this line has fallen apart plenty of times recently, they currently rank ninth in adjusted line yards, tenth in power success rate, and eighth in adjusted sack rate. While their pass block win rate of 53% ranks them near the bottom of the league, this line is actually fifth in the NFL in run block win rate.
That’s encouraging for both Philbin and this string of backups that the coach has had to unexpectedly throw into the fire, but more than that, it’s incredibly encouraging for next year, when this line will (presumably) be healthy. As it stands right now, only one other guard in the league has a higher pass block win rate than Martin, and the former Notre Dame standout is also fourth in run block win rate. Also noteworthy in that figure is Connor Williams who sits in a three-way tie for sixth-highest run block win rate among guards.
This is huge for Williams, who has been considered the weak link of this offensive line since being drafted. A big part of that has always been that he was playing alongside three Hall of Famers, but Williams also frequently struggled to hold up in pass protection. While that’s still been true this year - according to Pro Football Focus, Williams has allowed three sacks - his growth in the run game has been a huge sign of improvement for the third-year pro.
Then there’s Biadasz, the impressive rookie from Wisconsin. The lack of a preseason prevented Biadasz from having a true position battle with Looney, and the Cowboys went with the veteran to start. Then when Looney got hurt, Biadasz came in and played so well that he remained the starter once Looney came back. In fact, Biadasz has the highest run block win rate among all centers with 81%; for comparison’s sake, the only other offensive lineman at any position to top that run block win rate is Chargers tackle Bryan Bulaga, who coincidentally spent his first two years in the NFL under Philbin’s guidance in Green Bay.
In other words, the Cowboys have three top-ten run blockers on the interior of their line right now, with one of them also being an elite pass blocker. And next year they’ll be getting their two tackles back, both of whom are among the very best at their respective positions, which should help turn this offensive line into a juggernaut once again. The season obviously isn’t over, although there are plenty of fans who are already looking to next year. To those who are, the future is very bright in the trenches for Dallas.