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Creating a Monster: The Dallas Cowboys Offensive Line

John Williams

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Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, 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.



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.

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3 Comments
  • Joe Conti

    Alot of ppl over look this information when judging Garrett’s first years as headcoach. They all talk about the inability of him to win those last division games in order to win the division and get in the playoffs. Really was that as important as the draft pick dallas was able to secure not winning that game. Cmon those teams would have most likely just got blown out in the playoffs and whose to say if they would have been able to draft the same guys who are now leading this team.

    • John Williams

      I would say I’m a Jason Garrett homer. I think he can be a good coach and has caught some bad breaks at times in his coaching career.

      I think this might be there most balanced team on offense and defense.

  • Mark Peters

    This may be the best O-line I’ve ever seen. Even their new line coach sad something of the effect he had gone to football heaven. This also worries me a little. How the heck are they going to pay for all this talent? Martin and D-law this year. Dak and Zeke next. Then they have that young secondary mostly on rookie deals who for some looks like they may demand a payday. Hate to seem like a pessimist but the window of years the current roster stays stays together may be small. So we need to get Lombardi trophies 6 and 7 in the next 5 years. I wish they would just double the salary cap because you know Jones would pony up.

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Cowboys Defense is Ready to Win Now, Time for Offense to Prove the Same

Sean Martin

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Cowboys Defense is Ready to Win Now, Time for Offense to Prove the Same
(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

The Dallas Cowboys lead the NFC East at 1-1, and have a favorable schedule ahead of them. With such an inexperienced roster, early season growing pains were expected, and likely should be still as the team comes off their first win to play in Seattle on Sunday.

Through a season opening clunker in Carolina and hard-earned divisional win against the Giants, the Cowboys have exceeded already high expectations on defense.

With the currently 0-2 Seahawks, Lions, and Texans awaiting Dallas, the time is now for Scott Linehan's offense to hit their stride. It will take more than a five week assessment to determine if the Cowboys are truly playoff contenders for 2018, but it could take even less than that for Cowboys Nation to realize this team is fighting an uphill battle at QB and WR.

Following Dak Prescott's 64-yard touchdown pass to Tavon Austin against the Giants, the Cowboys punted on four of their remaining seven drives. The Cowboys did a better job mixing up their early down play calling to remain ahead of the chains for most of the night, but even still their execution was lacking. Finishing three of ten on third downs, the Cowboys didn't sustain the type of originality on offense that earned them an early cushion.

Thankfully, the Cowboys turning back the clock to 2016 on a clinching touchdown drive of 14 plays would be all the defense needed. Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott would both convert a pair of first downs on the ground. The Cowboys took a 20-3 lead, and more importantly the game clock down to 5:45 with an eight minute and 23 second march.

As such, the Cowboys offense is an enigma. With the return of Brice Butler, the team is currently carrying seven wide receivers and four tight ends.

On defense, the Cowboys are expecting reinforcements in Xavier Woods, Randy Gregory, and David Irving to further bolster this aggressive, blitzing unit in the coming weeks. For the offense, Dallas must make the most out of the unknown depth they have, without any drastic change in style around the corner.

The Cowboys record under Prescott proves they're at their best when Dak is efficient. The ceiling for a new-look Cowboys offense built for Dak is not as high for this reason. Through just two weeks, it's clear that the Cowboys offense will be as good as the sum of its parts - instead of relying on any individual talents.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Cowboys' record when Dak Prescott ... Doesn't throw an interception: 20-4 Records at least a 100.0 passer rating: 15-1 Commits no turnovers: 18-1

After a strong preseason from rookie Wide Receiver Michael Gallup, the third-round pick has played less than half his team's offensive snaps through two games. Cole Beasley has seemed to regain his connection with Prescott, snagging a team high nine catches so far. Terrance Williams has been a non-factor, and the same is surprisingly said about FA acquisition Allen Hurns.

Regardless of what the Cowboys do over the coming weeks, a few narratives and lingering questions about the team feel evident. With the defense set to tee off against the Seahawks sub par OL this week, Rod Marinelli's unit will still likely not receive the credit it deserves heading into week four.

With the task at hand being maintaining their standing atop the division, the Cowboys must also be out to prove they can sustain success without a consistent passing game.

All of this to effectively say, the Cowboys are going to Seattle expecting to control the game on defense. To finish off Russell Wilson in his home opener (already at 0-2), it will take a sharper performance for a full four quarters on offense too.

A win at the Seahawks might not mean as much as it has in past seasons, but in improving the Cowboys record to 2-1 on the way back to AT&T Stadium, it could be all the confidence they need to understand the NFC East is theirs for the taking while continuing to truly find their identity.

2014 NFL: Week 6 Cowboys vs. Seahawks highlights

Week 6 Own by nfl

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys Defense is Ready to Win Now, Time for Offense to Prove the Same" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Cowboys Defense So Far So Good as Seahawks Up Next

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Cowboys Defense So Far So Good as Seahawks Up Next

Dallas may only be 1-1 on the season, but the Cowboys are officially tied for first-place in the NFC East, and fresh off a workmanlike victory over divisional rivals, the New York Giants. It was a game they should have won, and did win, but the takeaways so early in the season are that, although the offense has not clicked on all cylinders, the defense is getting high praise.

The Cowboys sacked New York’s Eli Manning six times and limited the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 draft, Saquon Barkley, to a mere 28 yards rushing. It was also a night in which Dak Prescott not only out-gained Barkley by 17 yards on the ground, but torched the Giants’ secondary on a 64-yard touchdown strike to Tavon Austin which proved New York’s Safety Landon Collins wrong when leading up to this game he remarked that the key to a Giants’ victory would be getting Prescott to throw. When Prescott was made aware of the comment in a midweek interview he replied, "…challenge accepted," and the third-year veteran made good on his word leading to the 20-13 victory.

However, Prescott ended the night with just 160 yards passing yet the ankle injury he sustained in Week 1 showed no signs of rearing its head as Prescott moved seamlessly in the pocket and ran the ball well.

As we move ahead to the Cowboys meeting in Seattle, we take a quick check over to one of the most reputable online sportsbooks in the industry - Intertops according to the reviews - where we can monitor the line on this pivotal NFC clash as the week progresses.

Seattle boasts a talented quarterback of their own in Russell Wilson but one who will find the sledding tough if the Dallas defense continues to shut down All-World wide outs like Odell Beckham Jr. and contain future rushing stars like Saquon Barkley. Outside of Wilson, Seattle is not loaded offensively, with their biggest target, Doug Baldwin, ailing with a knee injury and a backfield which consists of two young rushers in second-year man Chris Carson and a first-round rookie in Rashaad Penny who dealt with nagging injuries throughout the preseason and looked unsettled in Seattle’s 27-24 loss to the Broncos.

The Cowboys defense has already proven its worth in Carolina with Cam Newton under center and again last week against New York. The unit is surrendering an average of 14 ½ points per game and is incorporating more blitz packages than we’ve come to expect.

The difference this year is that the players they have on defense are capable of getting to the quarterback quick enough so that the coverage linebackers and secondary aren’t alone on an island for too long. The one concern is the status of Linebacker Sean Lee, who checked out of the game in the fourth quarter Sunday night and brought to mind his hamstring issues of a year ago, but apparently it was in fact cramping, and not straining, of the hammy which allowed Lee to return.

The bottom line in terms of the Cowboys' upcoming matchup on Sunday afternoon is that they will get the Seahawks coming off a short week, as Seattle played on Monday night and should be relatively healthy for the contest.

Dak Prescott may not have the formidable offensive line that he has had in the past, nor a top-tier arsenal of receivers, but he does have the elusive Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield and is capable of extricating himself from pressure situations when no target is available.

If the Dallas defense continues to play at the current level, it will not only be limiting the opposition on the scoreboard but putting its offense in good field position throughout. So check out Intertops, one of the most trusted and reputable online sportsbooks, to see where this line goes because a Dallas win and an ATS cover are just days away.



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Taco Tuesday: Cowboys DE Taco Charlton Starting to Dominate?

Brian Martin

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Taco Tuesday: DE Taco Charlton Starting to Dominate?
(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

There has been quite a bit of talk about what a bad decision it was for the Dallas Cowboys to draft Taco Charlton with their first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Nearly everybody wanted someone different, not a player that needed time to develop.

Well, fast forward a year later and it looks as if the Cowboys made the right decision.

Don't look now, but Defensive End Taco Charlton is starting to live up to that first-round pedigree. In the first two weeks of the 2018 season, Charlton has already looked like a much improved player from what we saw a season ago. Imagine that, a little bit of time to develop and he's turning into a solid player.

I know I may be getting a little bit ahead of myself, especially suggesting that he is starting to dominate, but I can't help myself. I'm that excited about how much he has improved in one offseason. I may be alone here, but I have high hopes he could turn into something special.

In 2017, Taco Charlton failed to start a single game for the Dallas Cowboys as a rookie. That's not really what you want from your first-round draft pick. To makes matters worse, in 16 games he only registered 25 total tackles, four QB sacks, two passes defensed, and one forced fumble. As you can imagine, it didn't sit well with most Cowboys fans.

Luckily, it looks as if Charlton's offseason in the Dallas Cowboys strength and conditioning program has paid off. Already in 2018 he has accumulated six total tackles, one QB sack, one pass defensed, and recovered a fumble. If he keeps this pace up, we could be looking at #97 reaching double-digit sacks this year.

Taco Charlton

Dallas Cowboys DE Taco Charlton

Now, I wouldn't call what Taco Charlton has accomplished so far this season dominating, but he is proving to be a starting quality DE along the Cowboys defensive line. It's a unit that has looked really good in the first two weeks of the season and is expected to be even better once Randy Gregory and David Irving are able to return to the field.

In the meantime, the Dallas Cowboys are happy to get plays like this from Taco Charlton.

Taco Charlton Eli Manning sack

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

This is a play Charlton is expected to make. He was left unblocked, but we've seen players left unblocked before not make the play. So, it may not be as impressive as some QB sacks. But, I'll take the routine tackle any day over someone trying to make a splash play and failing.

If you're looking for an impressive play from Taco Charlton, take a look at what he was able to do against Odell Beckham Jr. in the passing game.

Taco Charlton covering Odell Beckham Jr

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

In case you're wondering, that's Taco Charlton in OBJ's hip pocket 15 yards down the field in pass coverage. It looks as if that's where Eli Manning was wanting to go with the ball, but tight coverage by the Cowboys, and Charlton, across the board ended up resulting in a QB sack.

If you don't find that impressive, I don't know what will. A 275 pound DE covering arguably the best and highest paid wide receiver down the field is almost unheard of. I would count that as impressive.

What do you think of Taco Charlton's play so far in 2018?



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