All during the offseason and into training camp, the Cowboys have talked about how important the running game is for their offense. With a rejuvenated looking Ezekiel Elliott and always dangerous Tony Pollard, there was at least a bit of logic there. The biggest investment of the offseason was drafting Tyler Smith in the first round to bolster the left guard position.
Well, there is an old saying about best laid plans. That concept for Dallas hit a roadblock in the joint practice against the Denver Broncos on Thursday. The running game hinges on good blocking up front. That was rarely anywhere to be seen in the scrimmage.
Not trying to be negative but this team talked all offseason about being more physical and getting back to running the football.— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) August 11, 2022
They were dominated on both of those fronts today.
The starting 5 OL weren’t out there together much, if at all, but everyone struggled quite a bit.
As noted, they were using something of a patchwork line, with Josh Ball getting most of the reps at left tackle with the first team, along with Connor McGovern at left guard. Still, this was a pretty dismal showing. Terence Steele also was getting pushed around at right tackle. It bodes poorly, especially for the running game.
Meanwhile, Dak Prescott was on fire early before some bad results later in the practice. His connection with CeeDee Lamb was the most solid part of the entire affair. Noah Brown and Simi Fehoko also looked very good, and Jalen Tolbert had his moments. Dalton Schultz continues to price himself out of a long-term deal with the team. It certainly seemed that the offensive line was better able to pass protect than run block, aided in part by Prescott’s mobility.
There are still four weeks before the regular season, but it is also a big problem to try and fix. Ball in particular had a bad day. Given that he is the best hope at swing tackle currently taking the field, it makes the failure to address the position in free agency even more galling. There still appears to be some hope that Matt Waletzko can return from his injury to get back into the mix, but he is hardly a proven quantity.
Given Stephen Jones’ intransigence over using cap space, it is entirely possible that the Cowboys will enter the season with no significant addition to the offensive line. That means the team will have to try and find other ways to solve things. It could be very rough in the early going as they face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with players like Vita Vea, Akiem Hicks, and William Gholston on the defensive line. In week three, they face the New York Giants and their defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, always a challenge. The next game they have the Washington Commanders and their talented defensive line. Then comes the Los Angeles Rams and a guy named Aaron Donald.
That is not exactly encouraging. The Dallas offensive line will not have time to come together. They have to get things working quickly to avoid stacking losses early in the season.
Running the ball as the identity of the team is already a rather antediluvian approach in the NFL. For the skeptically minded, it smacks of trying to prove the outsized salary for Elliott is justified rather than finding the best way to win. The evidence seemed convincing in the scrimmage that the team was far more successful putting the ball in Prescott’s hands rather than having him hand it off. Given how the inexperienced wide receiver corps is exceeding expectations, it would appear to be an easy decision to let the passing game carry the offense.
There is a strong suspicion that these kinds of decisions are not left up to the coaching staff of the Cowboys. The role of Jerry and Stephen Jones gives them far more input than just about any other owners in the league. That input is rather foolishly influenced by things like cap space and contracts. With rumors that Mike McCarthy is in a win or be fired season, it is unfair to him. It is still part and parcel for Dallas.
There still is a month to try and work things out on the offensive line. Perhaps the evidence on the practice field will finally get them to address things with a trade or free agent. This was not new by any means. The struggles of the offensive line were apparent in Oxnard. Obviously the line has problems whether or not it is DeMarcus Lawrence and Micah Parsons doing the harassing.
We will wait and see if the brain trust makes necessary moves or just stands pat on the offensive line. How they choose to go could determine if this season is successful or not.