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    Creating a Monster: The Dallas Cowboys Offensive Line

    After years of building, drafting, and retooling, the have completed their . And in the process, they've created a monster. The addition of Connor Williams in the second round of the 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 and Jason Garrett

    The End of 2009

    In 2009, the Dallas Cowboys won the and proceeded to win their wild card game to reach the 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 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 .

    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 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 .

    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 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 , who is in the , 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 as the Dallas Cowboys head coach, he convinced Owner and General Manager 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 Tyron Smith.

    That selection was 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  and 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 glory days of the 90's finally came to fruition.

    The Dallas Cowboys offensive line led the way for 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 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 La'el Collins (71), center Travis Frederick (72) and guard Zack Martin (70) huddle up in the first half against the at 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 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 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 spot early on. When the first round came and went, most of us, including this writer, thought they'd likely have to 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, 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.

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    John Williams
    John Williamshttps://anchor.fm/inside-the-cowboys
    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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    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.