The Dallas Cowboys will roll into Landover to face the Washington Football Team with a lot riding on the outcome of the game. The Cowboys can either win and increase their grip on the NFC East, or drop back into a very close race down the stretch. It is obvious which they prefer. With Washington riding a four-game winning streak, including some pretty decent opponents in that stretch, Dallas needs to bring everything it has to the game. While needed reinforcements are arriving on defense, there is one glaring issue for the offense that has persisted over the past few weeks. Connor McGovern replaced Connor Williams at left guard three weeks ago. So far, things have been less than satisfactory there. That is putting it kindly.
With five games left, there is opportunity to change back. But is that the right move? Our David Howman and Tom Ryle have differing views - naturally.
Tom: This is not an easy one, because three weeks seems to be enough time to gather data on McGovern. The results are not good for him. There is certainly reason to believe he is less effective than Williams, primarily in pass blocking. The main reason the switch was made was that Williams had become a flag magnet, repeatedly putting his team in a hole after a holding call and contributing to many stalled drives. At the time of the switch, many, perhaps most, fans were calling for it because of that downpour of yellow cloth. However, this is turning out to be another cautionary tale about being careful what you wish for.
That does not mean that the team should again switch the two, at least in my mind. Continuity is important on the O line, and that has been sorely lacking. I fear that shuffling things one more time would lead to another step back. The offense cannot afford that, especially for this game. Maybe after winning this week (knock on wood) they can reconsider things against the New York Giants. But I just don’t see it as wise right now.
David: I think continuity is important on an offensive line as well, but it doesn’t seem that the Cowboys share our belief. If they did, then Williams never would have been pulled to begin with, especially considering McGovern’s first start at left guard also featured Terence Steele making his first start at left tackle this year. If continuity mattered that much to the Cowboys, they also wouldn’t have tried that bizarre offensive line rotation mid-game they attempted recently.
The fact is that McGovern has been significantly less penalized than Williams since taking over - he has just two penalties across three starts, one of which was an ineligible man downfield penalty - but the switch hasn’t stopped Dallas from being the most penalized team in the NFL. We could go until we’re blue in the face about whether this team is really that undisciplined or if they just draw more attention from the officials for non-football reasons, but the end result is the penalties haven’t stopped with Williams’ benching. What has stopped, however, is this offense and that’s not a coincidence.
Tom: I am not arguing that Williams is the lesser option at LG. I am just saying that they may be at the wrong time to switch horses. As I said, the Giants game might be a time to reconsider, but for now, they can’t afford to disrupt things with the Washington hot on their heels for the division.
And there is another factor that I believe should be considered, at least in the New Orleans Saints game. That was the absence of Joe Philbin and Jeff Blasko due to COVID protocols. It made in-game adjustments problematic, but more importantly, the coaches were not available the week before to work on the issues from the prior week. In essence, things kind of were frozen. I strongly suspect that we will see improvement in the line as it is currently composed after they had a full week of practices to work with their charges. And of course they should be back in place on the sidelines to make those adjustments and corrections. I would much rather the coaches focus on getting things right with a group that now at least has a little time together than trying to put another lineup in place. It is a calculated risk, but I think it is the most likely to bear fruit.
David: I would co-sign the notion that Philbin and Blasko’s absences have hurt this team, but they were still the ones who made the decision to bench Williams in the first place. We know it was all about the penalties because Williams’ play was not the problem. In fact, he was third among all guards in pressure rate allowed when he got benched. On top of that, Williams ranked ninth in pass block win rate and 16th in run block win rate among just left guards in the NFL.
Those numbers aren’t going to earn him any All Pro considerations, but it’s better than McGovern; the new starting Connor ranks first in run block win rate and last in pass block win rate among left guards in his time starting there. And while he hasn’t been called for penalties nearly as often, those yellow flags have just been thrown on other players. So if the Cowboys are going to be called for penalties with or without Williams on the field, and he’s a significantly better pass blocker than McGovern in a league where passing rules all, it just doesn’t make sense to me why this team wouldn’t want their best pass blockers out there as they make a final push towards the playoffs. Philbin and Mike McCarthy should know what they’re doing better than we do, but the decision to keep McGovern over Williams still feels confusing and wrong to me.