Cowboys have to worry about offensive line

Posted Oct. 31, 2011 @ 1:41 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

Rob Ryan's defense was out of sorts, chasing ghosts of Eagles players all Sunday night and allowing a big-play barrage to their faster opponents. But just as concerning coming out of the 34-7 loss in Philadelphia was the play of the Cowboys' offensive line. The run defense had been excellent up to this point, so as surprising as Sunday's performance was, it shouldn't lead to uproar just yet. But the declining play of the offensive line, which has suffered a slow attrition to injury and with a lack of reserve talent, has been a lingering concern that really manifested itself in the loss.

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The Eagles collected five tackles for losses and four sacks, battering around Tony Romo and not allowing the Cowboys to use their rejuvenated ground attack. Sure, the defensive implosion had something to do with that, as it's tough to run the ball when you are trailing. But the Cowboys are fielding a subpar offensive line right now with very little room for improvement.

Right away on the first series, after two positive plays, the regression began. Recently signed OG Montrae Holland committed a holding penalty on the third play, and that was immediately followed by Eagles DE Jason Babin absolutely buzz-sawing Cowboys ORT Tyron Smith with an inside spin move for a sack. It got Romo sandwiched badly with DE Trent Cole collapsing the pocket on the other side. Smith finished off the awful series with some confusion, failing along with OG Kyle Kosier to handle a DT-DE stunt that led to another sack of Romo.

There was some minor improvement on the second drive, which ended in a tipped-ball interception, but extreme pressure and missed assignments up front plagued the final two series of the first half. The Cowboys were forced to go to a quicker tempo and without the benefit of any five- or seven-step drops or with many three- or four-receiver routes. The extra blockers were needed to be kept home because Romo was seeing a lot of green shirts in his face.

As the Eagles' lead grew in the second half, they backed off a little and the Cowboys finally strung a few garbage-time plays together. But all in all, it was a dismal performance. And though many share the blame, including a tough night for Jason Garrett's play-calling, the offensive line would be chief among them.

It might be the reason the Cowboys don't win the division. Sunday was a big game even though we are less than halfway through the season, as they find themselves in a three-way second-place tie in the NFC East behind the Giants. The team that wins the battle in the trenches the most often likely will have the upper hand in the East. In the Week Eight loss, the Cowboys failed on both lines of scrimmage and it's a concern going forward.

OLT Doug Free has had a down season. Holland is merely a stopgap. C Phil Costa is an undrafted free agent who is playing to that level. Kosier is past his prime. Smith has played relatively well but had a nightmare game Sunday. And the depth? Shaky at best with very little experience or talent to fall back on.