The Dallas Cowboys have the best offensive line in football.
How many times have we heard that phrase over the past two years? A lot, I know. While it seems repetitive to point it out at times, it is important to do so for the simple fact that it is true.
Three All-Pros, three first round picks, and five guys who have a serious shot at making the Pro Bowl each and every year. The oldest member of this group, however, might be becoming a problem.
The forgotten man of this offensive line, veteran right tackle Doug Free, is often criticized by fans who are sometimes very wrong in their criticism. These past two weeks, those criticisms have been as loud as ever, but they very well may finally be correct.
Free struggled mightily against the New York Giants, getting beat by Jason Pierre-Paul on multiple occasions. I expected an improvement at Washington, and while he did play better, it was nowhere near where we would hope for him to be.
In the run game, Free struggled to keep his feet on a multitude of plays. This lack of balance came back to haunt both him and the Cowboys, as often the player he whiffed on went on to either make or impact the play.
Here we see Doug Free try to execute a “pin and pull” technique with the tight end. Jason Witten gets pushed into the backfield, but he does seal his man just enough to avoid total failure. Free tries to pull for the cornerback to seal the outside, but fails to do so as he loses his feet and ends up on the ground.
The cardinal sin of o-line play is to lose your feet. You have to do your best to stay up at all times, and avoid whiffing like this.
Problems on the backside double between Tyron Smith and La'el Collins hurt the play, but it is Doug Free's miss which may have ultimately doomed it. Free takes a decent zone step off the ball, keeping his shoulders square and staying relatively low. He lets his upper body get too far over his knees, however, making it very easy for the defensive end to use his momentum against him, and make the play.
As an offensive linemen, you cannot allow yourself to lean like this, or else you will end up on your face.
Doug Free got beat a few times in pass protection this week, losing with similar problems just about every time. First, he allows the defensive lineman to get into his chest and control him. Free is not able to deliver a punch and create any separation from the defensive end off the ball. This allows the defensive end to bull rush Free into the quarterback, before shedding Free and coming up with the sack.
Washington tries a twist with their 3-technique and defensive end here, and they are successful in creating pressure with it. Zack Martin does a nice job of passing the defensive tackle off to Free, powering down and controlling the stunting end.
Free, however, loses his base and allows himself to get bull rushed once again. Dak Prescott avoids the sack here, but the fact that Free was beat remains the same regardless of the final outcome.
I've been pretty negative on Free throughout most of this article, but the fact of the matter is that Free did improve his play from week 1 to week 2.
Unlike the last play where the twist beat Free, he and Martin do an excellent job of passing off the down lineman, switching, and making the block. Free's footwork is excellent here, as is his punch as he stays strong with his inside arm and doesn't allow the defender to get into his chest and bull rush him.
This was my favorite Doug Free play from the entire game. He kicks back with ease, keeping himself square while still moving quick enough to meet the wide-aligned defender before it was too late.
Dak's run came back due to a hold on Travis Frederick, but Free did an excellent job in pass protection on this play.
While it wasn't pretty at times, Doug Free's play did improve from week to week. This Sunday night, the Cowboys face the Chicago Bears, a team with by far the worst pass rush of the three they have seen so far. Free needs to have his best game yet, or else the criticisms will only get louder.