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Creating a Monster: The Dallas Cowboys Offensive Line

After years of building, drafting, and retooling, the Dallas Cowboys have completed their offensive line. And in the process, they’ve created a monster. The addition of Connor Williams in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft has reasserted the Dallas Cowboys offensive line as the best in football — and it may not be close.

The team has been on this path since 2011 to create an identity for their football team that starts up front on the offensive line.

What transpired in the 2009 and 2010 seasons had a lot to do with the direction the team has taken over the last 8 seasons to ensure they were great up front.

Wade Phillips, Jason Garrett
Former and Current Dallas Cowboys’ Head Coaches Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett

The End of 2009

In 2009, the Dallas Cowboys won the NFC East and proceeded to win their wild card game to reach the divisional round for the second time in three years, only to be beaten by the Minnesota Vikings 34-3.

What transpired in that game should have been enough for the Cowboys to address their offensive line in the 2010 draft as quarterback Tony Romo was sacked six times and threw an interception.

On the season, Romo was sacked 34 times, which is more than twice a game. Perhaps the wins on the season and the division title masked the issues the team had up front.

The Debacle of the 2010 Season

The team had lofty expectations heading into 2010. They had been to the playoffs three of the previous four seasons and, despite the drubbing at the hands of the Vikings, were still a formidable offensive team with some star power on defense in DeMarcus Ware.

Unfortunately, it was never to be.

Tony Romo only started six games and was sacked seven times in that span. Cowboys quarterbacks were sacked a total of 31 times, which would be right outside the top ten for most sacks allowed in the NFL in 2010.

Tony Romo went 1-5 in his six starts that season, getting sacked seven times in those six games before giving way to Jon Kitna and Stephen McGee for the final ten games of the season.

Head Coach Wade Phillips was replaced by Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett after a 1-7 start that culminated in an embarrassing loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

More Than a Coach Was Changed

Cowboys Headlines - Cowboys on the Clock: Tyron Smith, #9 Overall
Dallas Cowboys T Tyron Smith (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

The change in coaching signaled a change in philosophy from a 3-4 defensive minded head coach to an offensive one who was rooted in the glory days of the Dallas Cowboys of the 90’s.

Those teams were known for their elite offensive line play that set the tone for the rest of the team. They protected Troy Aikman, who is in the Hall of Fame, and paved the way for the NFL’s All-Time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith.

The impact that the offensive line had on the Cowboys teams of the 90’s can’t be understated.

So in 2011, Jason Garrett’s first NFL Draft as the Dallas Cowboys head coach, he convinced Owner and General Manager Jerry Jones that they needed to do more to protect their most valuable asset (Tony Romo) while becoming a team that could run the ball and control the clock.

With the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft, the Dallas Cowboys selected Tackle Tyron Smith.

That selection was history making. It was the first time in the Jerry Jones era that they had spent a first round pick on an offensive lineman. A span of more than 20 years saw the Dallas Cowboys never invest a first in the offensive line.

Mission Accomplished

With the selections of Travis Frederick and Zack Martin in the first rounds of the 2013 and 2014 NFL Drafts, the Dallas Cowboys offensive line was complete.

Jason Garrett’s work to make the Dallas Cowboys in the image of the Super Bowl glory days of the 90’s finally came to fruition.

The Dallas Cowboys offensive line led the way for Running Back DeMarco Murray to lead the NFL in rushing. They protected Tony Romo to have the best season of his career, leading the NFL with a passer rating of 113.2.

Everything looked to be coming together for a team that went 12-4, won the NFC East, and beat some notable teams like the Seattle Seahawks along the way.

Then the “Dez Caught It” moment happened and we all came crashing back to Earth.

That season, though it didn’t end in a Lombardi Trophy, was still a success as it created a template that could be successful in the NFL. As teams attempt to spread out their formations to throw the ball, the Dallas Cowboys, while still using a lot of 11-personnel, showed the NFL that you can still be a run-first, physical football team and win.

With the template set, all the Dallas Cowboys have to do is to continue to retool.

Dallas Cowboys Have Big Hole on Offensive Line
Dallas Cowboys lineman including tackle Tyron Smith (77), offensive guard La’el Collins (71), center Travis Frederick (72) and guard Zack Martin (70) huddle up in the first half against the New York Jets at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Saturday, December 19, 2015.(Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

Creating a Monster

Let’s review how the Dallas Cowboys have collected this impressive group of humans to block for their football team.

  • Tyron Smith was the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft. Though he started out as a right tackle his rookie season, he made the move to the left side in his second year and has been considered one of the best tackles in the NFL since. Back issues have slowed him down, but he’s still in his prime heading into his eighth (!!!) NFL Season.
  • Travis Frederick was the 31st pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. A lot of the draft analysts around the league believed that to be a reach at the time when the Dallas Cowboys traded back to 31 to select Frederick. They don’t think it’s a reach now.
  • In 2014 the Dallas Cowboys, yet again, selected an offensive lineman in the first round of the NFL Draft. It was widely reported that if Ryan Shazier would have been there at pick 16, that he would have been the selection. Shazier’s been a great player in the league, but I’m actually glad that they got Martin. He’s considered the best guard in the NFL and will probably be so for the next ten years.
  • Right Tackle La’el Collins would have been a first round draft pick had his name not been attached to the murder of his ex-girlfriend. Instead of being a first round draft pick, the Dallas Cowboys, led by GM Jerry Jones, wined and dined Collins into signing a pretty nice deal for a UDFA. After rotating with Leary for a couple of seasons, he’s now the RT for the best offensive line in football.

That brings us to the newest addition of what has been coined The OLuminati. 

Heading into the 2018 NFL Draft, the whole world knew — or hoped — the Dallas Cowboys would address the left guard spot early on. When the first round came and went, most of us, including this writer, thought they’d likely have to trade up in the second to still come away with a plug and play guard at pick number 50.

So when they landed Connor Williams while staying put at 50, Cowboys Nation erupted with joy.

Connor Williams is strong enough to play on the interior but comes with the movement and flexibility to get to the perimeter and the second level. Though he was good last year, Jonathan Cooper was the weak link because of his movement limitations.

Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy

I just watched season one of the YouTube Red production Cobra Kai, which follows the lives of The Karate Kid’s main characters Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence as adults.

Johnny, broke as a joke, relaunched the Cobra Kai karate brand based on the philosophy, “Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy.” While it’s a harsh philosophy to be teaching a bunch of teenagers, it certainly has its place with the Dallas Cowboys offensive line.

This group has the attitude and the ability to ruin days for opposing defenses. They aren’t just going to get in your way, they’re going to hit you and go through you.

This group of lineman has no weaknesses and if we talk about the signing of Cam Fleming, now you have a guy that played tackle for the New England Patriots during the Super Bowl as your tackle off the bench if you need him.

No weaknesses.

The Dallas Cowboys are going to be able to run inside and outside and to both sides of the offensive line with regularity because of the strength, physicality, and movement ability of their starting five. Opposing defenses aren’t going to be able to load up on one side of the line because of a perceived weakness on the other side.

With Ezekiel Elliott running behind them, who’s shown the ability to stretch a play outside and make a big run or find a crease in the middle of the line for a huge play, this is the Dallas Cowboys running game that Jason Garrett has been looking for since he took over in 2011.

While they’ve had success in the past, I have huge expectations for this group in 2018. 1,600 rushing yards for Elliott if he plays 16 games should be the floor. There’s no reason he shouldn’t flirt with a 2,000 yard season.

Now, whether that leads to a Super Bowl Championship remains to be seen, but we’ve seen in the past that when the Dallas Cowboys have success in the run game, it usually leads to wins, and lots of them.

What do you think?

John Williams

Written by John Williams

Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual, reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.

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