The Dallas Cowboys lost a shootout on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks 38-31. It was a game where both offenses exchanged blows, but what went down in trenches really made a huge impact in the outcome. After re-watching the game tape, we have a little better understanding of what happened on Sunday. In this two-part series, we first take a look at the offensive side of the ball and examine the play of the Cowboys offensive line.
Connor Williams is the biggest liability
We are quick to point out the team is running with two undrafted free agents on the edge, but if you want to highlight a weak spot on the offensive line, it’s Connor Williams. Don’t get me wrong, he’s going against Jarran Reed who is a really good player, but far too often, Williams just gets overpowered and pushed into the backfield. His inability to secure those blocks had a detrimental effect on the Cowboys rushing attack. On this play, if Williams holds his block, Ezekiel Elliott has chance to shoot the gap for big gain. Instead, the lane gets obstructed, and Zeke ends up being caught behind the line of scrimmage.
It was also Williams’ man who got by him just enough to get his hand on Prescott’s throwing arm to dislodge the ball that caused the fumble. We’ll let you decide what you think of this play as Dak Prescott’s double pump didn’t help, but either way, Williams continues to let his man get passed him far too much.
The Knight shift
As a whole, the offensive line is holding up well in pass protection. They currently allow pressure on 21.3% of plays (17th), and give Prescott 2.5 seconds for average time to throw in the pocket, which is tied for fourth best. A big part of that is the surprising play of their UDFA tackles filling in along the edge.
Rookie Terrence Steele did come out halfway through the game as he was dealing with the lingering effects of food poisoning. Zack Martin moved over to right tackle, and he was fantastic (we’ll get to that in a minute). But it’s hard not to be pleased with how second-year tackle Brandon Knight is doing. Knight is super quick off the snap, almost to the point where you expect the Cowboys to get flagged for a false start. He jumps right in position and does a great job of leading the pass rusher too far around the edge, taking him out of the path of the quarterback. This quick reaction and footwork enables him to keep a nice path for Prescott.
He will also show good balance and strength when defenders try to bull rush him. Knight’s quick feet allows him to spread out and create good leverage to slow down the pass rush.
Unfortunately, Knight got beat at a critical moment in the game when he got caught moving too much to the outside. The Seahawks defender quickly cut inside, catching Knight out of position, allowing a clear path to Prescott. The sack forced the Cowboys to take their final timeout and set up third and long with just 16 seconds left in the game.
The other Blake
Not only did Knight do a good job securing the edge, but Blake Bell showed up surprisingly well as a blocker. He plays with good leverage and holds his own. It makes sense now why the team signed him this offseason.
The All-Pro pass-pro running back
The box score will show Ezekiel Elliott rushing 14 times for just 34 yards, but he did some other stuff that shouldn’t go unnoticed. Zeke has always been a willing blocker and his ability in pass protection is very underrated, but he put those chops on display against the Seahawks’ blitzers.
Elliott does a great job positioning his feet to obtain ultimate leverage. Whether he lunged and sent the defender topsy-turvy or squared up and stopped them in their tracks, Zeke was very effective in making sure the Seahawks didn’t get a clean shot on Prescott. This allowed Dak enough time find his receivers and keep those chains moving.
The offensive line did a fine job. The Cowboys are using their blockers well with good contribution from their tight ends and running back to help out. Considering the incredible amount of shuffling they’ve had to do already, it’s really amazing that they’ve been as effective as they have protecting Prescott.
The biggest conversation piece from this is what should they do with Zack Martin? It’s a very real possibility that La’el Collins isn’t going to be around for a while, so trying to configure a longer-term solution at right tackle needs to happen. Does that mean Martin should remain there? Make no mistake about it, Martin was fantastic on Sunday.
Zack Martin is something special. Outside of a snafu with Looney vs an E/T stunt on the last OFF play, he was excellent at RT.— John Owning (@JohnOwning) September 28, 2020
His presence brought some much-needed stability to the pass pro in the 4th.
The game result was disappointing but this was a bright spot #Cowboys pic.twitter.com/Gy5PpRpDGj
The answer to this depends on so many things. Obviously, as long as Tyron Smith keeps missing games, then yes - Martin stays at right tackle. When Smith comes back, the team will have a tough decision as they evaluate what arrangement is collectively better. It really comes down to how effective Joe Looney and rookie Tyler Biadasz are on the inside. How much does not having Martin at guard hurt them? When you consider that Williams is still a weak spot on that offensive line, they don’t really want to make their interior line weaker by taking Martin out of the mix.
If Knight can play the right side as well as he’s playing the left, the Cowboys tackle position is just fine. Yes, Martin is better, but you only have one Martin to work with. If the drop off is greater on the interior line without Martin there, then they’ll need to keep their All-Pro guard at his regular position. A deeper evaluation of Looney and Biadasz combined to Knight’s ability on the right side will ultimately determine the answer, but we shouldn’t just pencil Martin in at right tackle just yet.