It’s 3rd & 1 and the Dallas Cowboys need a short push to get a much-needed first down. Behind the best offensive line in football, this looks to be easy for Darren McFadden and the Cowboys. The ball is hiked to Matt Cassel, Cassel proceeds to hand the ball off to McFadden, and McFadden is stuffed at the line. The Cowboys are then forced to punt. How many times have you witnessed that happening this season?
Well, it’s actually happened a lot. According to 105.3 The Fan’s Shan Shariff, the Cowboys are 7-18 on 3rd & 1. For all of you math majors out there, that’s a 39% success rate. Yikes.
Unbelievable stat: #Cowboys are worst 3rd & 1 team in league, now 7-18…….with the “best” offensive line in football.
— Shan Shariff (@1053SS) December 13, 2015
Behind All-Pros like Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin, as well as an up-and-coming player in La’el Collins, and a guy who isn’t so bad himself in Doug Free, the Cowboys should be converting easily, but really, the problems lie all on the coaching staff. On short-yardage plays, the Cowboys bring in jumbo personnel, meaning two more tight ends for extra blocking. In theory, this sounds like more blocking, but it attracts more defenders which means more clutter and less space for the offensive line to do what they’re best at. Here’s a picture of what I’m talking about:
In this picture, because the Cowboys come out in their jumbo personnel, the Packers basically have all 11 of their guys within five yards of ball. Robert Turbin is seven yards from the ball. Once the ball is snapped, and it’s determined it’s a running play, it’s honestly easy to see why the Cowboys aren’t having success on short-yardage plays.
Let’s take a look at two plays where the offensive line opened up huge holes:
On this play, notice how Free is sealing the edge, Martin is blowing out the “backup” man and how James Hanna is sealing the outside linebacker. This leads to a hole like this:
This leads to a 50-yard gain for McFadden. Let’s take a look at another play:
Notice on this pitch to McFadden how Jason Witten comes underneath to seal the defensive end, allowing Collins and Smith to use their athleticism get to the outside. The outside-man, Smith, blows the cornerback off the football.
We then see an absolutely huge hole for McFadden. Shortly after this image, we see Collins absolutely destroy Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and then continue running another 30 yards to block another defender.
These two plays are prime examples why the narrative of ‘the Cowboys’ offensive line isn’t nearly as good as it was last year’ is simply a joke. The other bad one is ‘maybe DeMarco Murray helped the offensive line more than the offensive line helped him’. Dallas’ offensive line is still the best in football. Over the next few years, this unit will only continue to get better.