Once upon a time, the Dallas Cowboys offensive line was considered by most to be the best unit of it’s kind league-wide. This reputation was built mainly on their ability to open up huge holes for All-Pro Ezekiel Elliott who ran his way to two rushing titles in his first three seasons, and led the league in yards per game the one year he didn’t (98.3) when he served a six-game suspension.
This season, however, this unit has taken a slight step back in its ability to physically dominate opposing defensive fronts consistently. Even though the Cowboys have a top ten rushing attack and Elliott’s 1,071 yards rank fifth in the NFL, there’s been several games this year when they have gotten pushed around at the line of scrimmage which definitely hasn’t been the norm in recent years.
Week 4 vs the New Orleans Saints was the first example of the up and down season this unit has had run blocking. Elliott only managed a pedestrian 35 yards on 18 carries. What stood out the most to me was that eight of those carries went for one yard or less. The Saints defensive front won the battle at the point of attack all game long and made Elliott a nonfactor for most of the night. New Orleans does have a top-five run defense but seeing this unit get bullied in that fashion was a bit of a shocker.
In Week 10 vs the Minnesota Vikings, the Cowboys offensive line once again struggled to establish the run. Nine of Elliott’s 20 carries went for two yards or less as he only produced a grand total of 47 yards all game. Unfortunately, this lack of push by the big boys up front made the Cowboys offense so one dimensional that Quarterback Dak Prescott had to drop back 46 times to throw which isn’t ideal at all considering how the overall offensive unit is built. Yes, the Vikings were eighth vs the run coming into this game (currently 11th) but when your offensive line has three all-pros on it you don’t expect this type of performance.
A week later vs the Detroit Lions may have been the most head-scratching performance by this offensive line all season when it comes to run blocking. Entering the game, the Lions were ranked 27th vs the run but you couldn’t tell on this day. 10 of Elliott’s 16 carries were for two yards or less and he only put up 45 yards for the game. Fortunately, the Cowboys got one of Prescott’s best games of the season with 444 yards but the fact that this offensive line let such a poorest run defense control the line of scrimmage wasn’t a good look.
Don’t get me wrong, this unit has shown flashes this season of how they can still take over games and control the clock like years past. Elliott is tied for the second-most 100-yard games this season with five. However, as mentioned earlier, the consistency hasn’t been there week to week. They haven’t played up to their ability against good or bad defenses which is a very concerning trend that needs to change.
The Cowboys have their backs to the wall as the Philadelphia Eagles have drawn even in the standings at 6-7. They still hold the top spot by virtue of their head to head victory over the Eagles back in Week 7 but there’s little to no room for error at this point. Two of the three remaining defenses the Cowboys will face are ranked in the 20s vs the run. Can this offensive line set the tone by dominating the line of scrimmage with its physicality in the run game? We shall see but it’s definitely something they need to figure out soon because if they do make the playoffs they’ll need Elliott to be effective running the football.