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While the defense is flourishing, the Cowboys have quietly remodeled their offensive line

When things start to break down, it’s good to get in there and fix it right up. The Cowboys are trying.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

It might be hard to believe, but just a couple of years ago fans of the Dallas Cowboys were feeling really good about the state of the offensive line. Three of their lineman were coming off of Pro Bowl seasons, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Travis Frederick (who returned in 2019 after missing the previous year dealing with Guillain-Barre syndrome). La’el Collins was coming off his best season as a pro and many suspected Pro Bowl appearances were in his future. And their weakest link, Connor Williams. was still young and showed a lot of potential.

That was following the 2019 season. A lot has happened since then.

To kick things off, Frederick retired prior to the 2020 season. Tyron Smith’s ability to stay healthy went from bad to worse as he missed more games than he played over the next two seasons, and he is once again expected to miss the better part of the season this year. La’el Collins missed the entire 2020 season and part of last year due to injury/suspension. The team just flat-out released him this past offseason. And the team’s weakest link, Connor Williams, stayed the weakest link as he led all players in penalties last year. The Cowboys let him walk in free agency this past offseason.

With so many bad things happening, it would be easy to believe that the Cowboys' offensive line has fallen on hard times. And to be honest, there have been some bumpity bumps in the road over the past two seasons. That said, the state of the Cowboys' offensive line is actually pretty good right now and continues to trend up. Why is that? Well, that’s because the organization has continued to draft and develop players and has completely remodeled its offensive line. It’s quite impressive actually, so we wanted to run this thing back and see how the Cowboys have gotten to this point.

Trade up for Tyler Biadasz

The loss of Frederick was unexpected and put the Cowboys in a tough spot. They again turned to the veteran Joe Looney as the “last resort” starter, but many thought the Cowboys would invest a premium draft pick in one of the nation’s top collegiate centers, like say Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz.

They didn’t. Instead, the Cowboys found an opportunity to trade up for Wisconsin’s Tyler Biadasz when he was still on the board in the fourth round. It was a perfect combination of best available and need, and the front office drove to it.

Biadasz started games as a rookie before an injury changed that. Regardless, this former Badger took over as the Cowboys center in 2021 and hasn’t looked back. There were times early when he was a liability as he has moments where he can be overpowered, but Biadasz has quietly become a very reliable starter in this league. He’s fundamentally sound, moves well in space, and is just a gritty competitor. The periodic complaining that once existed with Biadasz has all but disappeared.

The undrafted gift

Despite going undrafted in 2020, Terence Steele has gotten the royal treatment in playing time. Thrown right to the wolves, Steele started 14 games at right tackle his rookie season with Collins lost for the year. Even with Collins back last year, Steele wasn’t so willing to give up his spot and started another 13 games. The team made the decision to move on from Collins and roll with Steele this offseason, and despite being met with a lot of consternation from fans, it’s turned out to be one of the front office’s better moves. Steele has emerged as one of the top right tackles in the league. Man, what a weird thing to say.

Steele has appealing attributes to have a long-lasting career in the NFL. He has great length and uses his reach to keep defenders out of his chest. He has good feet and gets wide in his stance, oftentimes escorting the edge rusher beyond the quarterback and out of the play. But one of the best things about him is just how quickly he gets out of his stance. He regularly gives himself an advantage because of how he explodes off the line of scrimmage.

The seventh-rounder nobody cares about

We all expected to see the rookie Tyler Smith at left guard this season, but a training camp injury to Tyron Smith squashed that. So we were stuck with Connor McGovern at LG, that is until Tyler Smith flattened his defender into McGovern’s leg in Week 1. And just like that, second-year guard Matt Farniok is the team’s new starting left guard.

What you think of Farniok could depend on your perspective. If you see all the play-altering losses he’s taken in the trenches over the last month, you probably don’t like him. If you see him as a developing player asked to do more than he’s ready to do, then you might feel differently.

Farniok was a seventh-round pick a year ago and many didn’t expect him to even make the roster. He did. Not only did he make the team, but he also played in 12 games last season. He possesses the position flex the Cowboys love, and he has a chance to be a viable guard at this level. While the bad stands out, he’s molding into a better player with each new opportunity. Even with Jason Peters and McGovern back last week, Farniok was still playing.

Watching Farniok on tape is very reminiscence of early Biadiasz in a lot of ways. He’ll get overpowered by strong nose tackles, but he also will be effective when he’s allowed to move in space. Whether it’s a pull, combo block, or lining him up as a fullback, he’ll find his target and latch. The Cowboys are finding ways to use him and if he continues to improve, he will have value on this offensive line, even if it’s just a reserve interior lineman.

The first-round “reach”

When the Cowboys selected Tulsa tackle Tyler Smith with their 24th overall pick, many fans were upset. This youngster was extremely raw and while his future may have been bright, did it warrant using such high draft capital to get him? Even Jerry Jones felt backed into a corner defending the pick; he felt compelled to show the world his team’s rankings by flashing their draft sheet at a press conference.

Fast forward to now, and everyone is singing a different tune. Smith, who spent most of his time at guard in training camp, was asked to take on the most important offensive line position, protecting Dak Prescott’s blindside at left tackle. While there have been struggles at times, Smith has quickly proven he’s every bit worth the team’s investment in him.

Smith is getting better with each rep. His strength carried him early, but he’s now demonstrating nice footwork and veteran-level hand placement to essentially shut down opposing edge rushers. He shows off his athleticism when he’s running downfield looking to flatten his next victim, and he shows off his raw power by foiling the progress even when his fundamentals aren’t perfect. The progress of this kid is just phenomenal.

Remember when Jerry was laughed at for flashing that draft sheet to prove to nonbelievers that they really had Smith ahead of other more touted prospects like Kenyon Green and Zion Johnson? Well, who’s laughing now? Here were the PFF grades entering Week 5.

Smith had his struggles against Aaron Donald on Sunday, but most players do. And there will be many other tough challenges in his future, but overall, the rookie is still off to a good start.

The Los Angeles Rams did sack Cooper Rush three times on Sunday, which was more than he’s been sacked in his previous three starts. But while the passing game wasn’t there, the Cowboys leaned heavily on their run blocking for a total of 163 rushing yards against a Rams defense that entered the league with the six-fewest rushing yards allowed. It was the second time in three games that Dallas has churned out 160 yards rushing in a game. It’s not sexy, but it will keep their backup quarterback in manageable situations.

The Cowboys still have questions along the offensive line and we don’t have a crystal ball to tell us how this will all unfold. But what we do know is that the team has a nice young (and inexpensive) group to build around, and these guys aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

So, enjoy the great work the defense is doing, but we should take a little pleasure in the fact that these young linemen are getting it done in the trenches.

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