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November 14, 2017

Eagles need to take advantage of Cowboys' overrated offensive line

Which team has the best offensive line in the NFL? Ask anyone who doesn't actually study OL play (and many who do), and you'll get the same answer. It's obviously the Dallas Cowboys. Duh.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. The Dallas Cowboys' offensive line is probably the most overrated thing in sports. 

That's not to say its bad. Make no mistake, it's an excellent run-blocking unit, and one of the best in that department in the league. When the Cowboys are running the football well, they are able to keep opposing defenses thinking run, thus tempering their effectiveness against the pass rush.

The Cowboys' offensive line has made a name for itself on the backs of three very good players in their primes in LT Tyron Smith, C Travis Frederick, and RG Zack Martin.

The other two spots, though? Not good. 

And depth? Lol.

This past offseason, the Cowboys lost two of their starting offensive linemen in Doug Free and Ronald Leary. Free was far from a stud RT, but the NFL let him get away with holding often enough for him to be considered a solid starter. He retired. Leary, meanwhile, wasn't a star either, but John Elway liked him enough to sign him to a four-year, $36 million deal this past offseason to play for the Broncos.

The Cowboys replaced Free with the over-hyped La'el Collins, and Leary with journeyman Jonathan Cooper. They have both been significant downgrades, as RT and LG have been clear holes along the Cowboys' OL in 2017.

Over the last two seasons, Frederick and Martin played every snap, while Smith played every snap in 2015 and missed 224 snaps in 2016.

 PlayerSnaps played - 2015 Snaps played - 2016 
 Travis Frederick1051 of 10511126 of 1126 
 Zack Martin1051 of 1051 1126 of 1126
 Tyron Smith1051 of 1051  902 of 1126

It is rare in the NFL to have that kind of injury luck along your offensive line, and it's unsustainable over a long period of time. That is why having offensive line depth is crucial in the NFL.

Last Sunday, the Cowboys faced a huge challenge when they played the Atlanta Falcons on the road sans Smith. In that contest, it was definitively proven that the Cowboys' offensive line depth is garbage. The Falcons sacked quarterback Dak Prescott eight times, as Falcons DE Adrian Clayborn completely wrecked the game, collecting six sacks, mostly against over-matched reserve LT Chaz Green.

Heading into that matchup, Clayborn had 22.5 career sacks in 73 games. In other words, he's not exactly Von Miller. Here, we'll show seven of the Falcons' sacks, in gifs:

1) Clayborn easily beats Green around the edge.

2) Dontari Poe beats All-Pro RG Zack Martin with a swim move.

3) Clayborn jolts Green back with a bull rush, then spins off of him and into Prescott for the sack.

4) Awful.

5)  Here, Green has help to the inside, and he still gets beaten to the outside.

6) By this point, the Cowboys had benched Green, and replaced him with Byron Bell, with the same results. This time Brooks Reed kills Bell on a spin move. Bell tries to hold Reed (and gets flagged for it), but Reed sacks Prescott anyway.

7) And finally, one last sack-fumble by Clayborn vs. Bell to seal the blowout win.

Whenever Smith, Frederick, or Martin can't play, the Cowboys will have three holes along their line.

The strength of the Philadelphia Eagles' defense is their deep and talented defensive line, which has dominated in pretty much every game so far this season. The Eagles have followed a very simple formula in 2017:

  1. Stop the run.
  2. Make the opposing offense one-dimensional.
  3. Get after the quarterback.

With star running back Ezekiel Elliott serving at least four games of his six-game suspension, 'step 1' should be easier this week than it would have otherwise.

It is still to be determined whether or not Smith will return to his spot at LT this Sunday night against the Eagles. From the Eagles' perspective, it shouldn't matter. The Eagles' defensive line is better than the Cowboys' offensive line, and it's a matchup that they should expect to win.

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