Unit paves way for rookies to shine
by Donny Chedrick
Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have taken the National Football League by storm this season. Two exciting, young rookies that have the Dallas Cowboys looked at as the best team in the NFL with a 9-1 record heading into Thanksgiving.
However, don’t let the flashiness of these young guns fool you, the secret to the Dallas Cowboys’ success will hit you square in the chest. A group compiled from left to right including Tyron Smith, Ronald Leary, Travis Frederick, Zach Martin and Doug Free are the reason for the Dallas Cowboys winning ways in 2016.
Colin Cowherd said on his daily podcast Monday afternoon the offensive line of the Dallas Cowboys is the “best unit” in the NFL – comparing them to the Seattle Seahawks’ secondary, the Carolina Panthers’ linebackers, the Los Angeles Rams’ defensive line and the New York Giants’ wide receivers.
Cowherd then went on to elude that the drop off after the Cowboys offensive front isn’t even close to the rest of those groups. With the subtle youth, yet great experience that the ‘Boys have up front, it makes it easy for the two rookies to shine in Big D. Elliott and Prescott score the points and get the cheers, but without the big hogs, the Dallas Cowboys are not 9-1.
Questioning whether or not the Dallas O-Line is the best in football is foolish, just ask the running back. Ezekiel Elliott is having the greatest rookie season out of any back in Cowboys’ history, and that’s one that includes Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett.
Dorsett had 1,007 yards with Dallas in 1977 en route to a Super Bowl title, but Elliott passed that early in Week 11. The current rookie boasts 1,102 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns on 223 carries.
Sure, Zeke is very talented and is on a path of greatness at this point in his career, but having a great offensive line makes those numbers appear a lot easier. Take a guy like DeMarco Murray for instance, who played in Dallas a few seasons ago with a similar offensive line. He played two seasons as a Cowboy and ran for over 1,000 yards in both, with 2014 being a monumental year in Murray’s career.
Running for 1,845 yards (115.3 per game) to lead the league and adding 13 touchdowns was by far the best season in Murray’s life, and the best of any running back that season. After 2014 Murray left Dallas for Philadelphia and that proved to be a bad decision very quickly.
A year after running for nearly 2,000 yards, Murray totaled just over 700 and was only the starter for half of the season. In 2016, Murray plays with the Tennessee Titans – an up and coming offensive line that has proven to get the job done and he already has 1,000 yards. So what happened to Murray in 2015 in Philly?
Easy answer – his offensive line. He went from having the best in football to one of the worst, and his numbers reflected that.
Not to take away from Dak Prescott’s sensational rookie campaign, but I am more interested in seeing what he can do without the best offensive line and, in correlation, the best rushing attack in the NFL.
His 17 touchdown passes to 2 interceptions are among the best single season TD-INT ratio in NFL history, but what happens if you take away his protection and his crutch? That has yet to be seen, but that is a true test for an NFL-worthy quarterback.
Pro Football Focus published an All-Pro team last year and it didn’t include a single skill position player on the Dallas Cowboys roster, however, the offensive line was well-represented. Center Travis Frederick took home first-team honors, with left tackle Tyron Smith and right guard Zack Martin being named to the second team. The same three were drafted to Team Irvin in the last two Pro Bowl games, even though that event has been extremely diluted the past few seasons.
The way this unit works is truly an art form. Holes wide enough for a truck to drive through, a pocket that a QB can drink coffee in before throwing a pass and the engine that powers the offense on any given drive. The Dallas Cowboys have won nine games in a row and not only sit atop the NFC, but the entire NFL.
Two rookies have the wheels and aerial ability to possibly both be named Rookie of the Year – or even MVP, but the big guys up front are used to getting no recognition, but football fans everywhere should know they are the real MVPs.