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Playoff Primer: Dallas Cowboys Interior Offensive Linemen

Sean Martin

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Zack Martin, Giants
AP Photo / James D Smith

While it is accurate to say that the Dallas Cowboys offensive line is the best in football from Tyron Smith down to Doug Free, the true greatness of these Space Cowboys is found at guard and center.

As I continue my Playoff Primer series, we’ll wrap up the offensive line by looking at the embarrassment of riches the Cowboys have on the interior. For my breakdown of the offensive tackles, check out “Playoff Primer: Dallas Cowboys Offensive Tackles“.

Let’s start in the middle.

Travis Frederick

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Travis Frederick

Not only is Travis Frederick one of the most talented centers in the league, but he is one of the smartest, making him the perfect center-man for this star-studded offensive line. Perhaps Frederick hasn’t gotten enough credit for working with rookie QB Dak Prescott, who has noticeably been making plenty of adjustments at the line before receiving a snap from Frederick.

Once thought of as a reach when he was drafted in the first round by Dallas in 2013, Frederick has proven to be an anchor in the middle for the Cowboys. When it comes to the 2016 playoffs, he will have an even better chance to prove his worth, as the team’s the Cowboys may face all present tough interior defenders.

Whether it is the 3-4 look of the Green Bay Packers or another match up with Damon Harrison and the New York Giants, Frederick is going to have his hands full throughout the playoffs – but should be up to the challenge as a blocker that excels with leverage and relatively consistent short-range power.

Long live the beard.

Ronald Leary

Where would the Dallas Cowboys be without Ronald Leary? Once seen as an off season distraction when he held out over losing his job to La’el Collins, Leary is now the starter this team needs at left guard. A veteran that can be trusted, Leary has the luxury of playing between Frederick and Tyron Smith – but individually excels as a run and pass blocker.

Leary has handled his new situation as a starter like a professional, and even if it just to get paid elsewhere for 2017, he can be a huge part of hopefully guiding the 2016 Cowboys deep into the playoffs.

Leary did not play in week 17 against the Eagles, and had at times before this looked slightly off his game. Hopefully the two weeks off will rejuvenate Dallas’ starter at LG, who just consistently blocks any defender thrown at him throughout the day without a worry.

Zack Martin

Fun fact: I own a Zack Martin jersey.

Also a fun fact: Martin is arguably the best guard in the NFL. While Ron Leary puts in work as a reliable left guard, Martin absolutely dominates at the right guard position for the Cowboys on every snap – and has since his rookie year in 2014.

Just watch the holes that Ezekiel Elliott ran through to become this season’s rushing champion, and you’ll often see a blue #70 in front of him paving a path to the second level.

Martin is not only an elite run blocker that will thrive this postseason, but he limits pass rushers as soon as he gets his hands on them – a trait that is often thrown around when discussing linemen, but rarely seen at the quality that Martin exhibits.

Perhaps the biggest difference for the Cowboys going into the 2016 playoffs compared to 2014 is that their workhorse back is much more well-rested. If Zeke Elliott is going to eat his way to Houston and Super Bowl LI like we all think he’s capable of, he will owe a ton of credit (and maybe another ATV?) to Zack Martin.

Jonathan Cooper

//insidethestar.com/cowboys-headlines/film-room-what-can-jonathan-cooper-bring-to-dallas/

My fellow Staff Writer and New Jersey resident Kevin Brady already did most of the leg work right here when it comes to breaking down what the recently signed Jonathan Cooper can bring to the Cowboys as a backup guard.

Cooper, a former first round pick, has yet to settle in to a long-term role in the NFL – bouncing around as a guy that always had the potential but lacked the film to match it at this level. Even still, as a backup here in Dallas, Cooper is one of the best players the Cowboys could have brought in to potentially have to fill in at either guard position.

If called upon in the playoffs, I do worry that Jonathan Cooper may fall behind as a run blocker, with a limited amount of time to learn Scott Linehan’s zone blocking scheme. With enough experience and strength though, Cooper is likely as good of a backup lineman as there is to be found on any team currently in the playoffs.

Joe Looney

Of all of the talented guards and centers the Cowboys employ, swing man Joe Looney is probably the one you least want to see have to play in these playoffs. Looney does have some game experience that Cooper does not at left guard for the Cowboys, but this experience has only shown that Looney will struggle greatly throughout the course of a game.

Between the occasional good reps, Looney will get overpowered with bad technique, and more importantly get beat across his face on running plays – a major error in executing the zone scheme.

Looney’s value in Dallas comes from the fact that he can play both guard and center, but since we opened this Playoff Primer praising Travis Frederick and all of his awesomeness, Looney will likely serve as just an emergency guard this postseason.

La'el Collins

The X-Factor: La’el Collins

I’m fascinated to see what the Dallas Cowboys do with La’el Collins in the playoffs. Back to work at practice, Collins doesn’t have to worry about preparing himself to start at left guard – as Ron Leary has that spot secured.

Instead, the Cowboys are going to have to get creative with how they utilize this first-round talent that they signed after the 2015 draft.

One area this team is thin at right now is tight end, and this offense sorely misses a versatile TE like Geoff Swaim that can block on the edge and present a threat in the passing game. While Collins gives the Cowboys virtually nothing as a pass catcher, lining him up in “Jumbo” sets as a tight end is almost unfair to edge defenders.

With Elliott in the backfield and Collins on the edge, defenses will have to change their entire look, which could lead to more chances for Dez Bryant and other WRs in single coverage. Collins’ best trait is his ability to move and block on the run, so I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him out in front of those always well-times toss sweeps.

It could be a very fun playoff run for La’el Collins, but his role and overall health is uncertain, making him this unit’s x-factor.


As you enjoy Wild Card Weekend, make sure to stay posted to Inside The Star as I round out the offense in this series before moving on to the defense. 

Before kickoff at AT&T Stadium on January 15th, Playoff Primer will preview every position on the Cowboys, and you can discuss any of these articles with me on Twitter @ShoreSportsNJ

Tell us what you think about “Playoff Primer: Dallas Cowboys Interior Offensive Linemen” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Pleasant NJ, no we’re not how you think we are. Host of “Upon Further Review” on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. You may @ me: @SeanMartinNFL.

Game Notes

DAL 20, OAK 17: Cowboys and Playoff Hopes Survive Wild Game

Jess Haynie

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Jason Witten, Dak Prescott

On a night when almost everything seemed to bounce the Raiders’ way, the final crucial play went in Dallas’ favor. That proved to be all the difference, allowing the Cowboys to improve to 8-6 and keep their playoff hopes alive in a pivotal road game in Oakland.

After a 55-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Jourdan Lewis moved Oakland 15 yards from the endzone, Oakland had a few shots at a game-winning touchdown before they’d attempt a tying field goal. On 3rd-and-3, Derek Carr scrambled and went for the score. He dived along the sideline and stretched the ball out toward the pylon, only to lose control. The ball left his hands, crossed the goal line, and went out the side of the endzone.

Cowboys ball. Cowboys wins.

That fumble was Oakland’s fourth of the night. Cordarrelle Patterson fumbled on two of his kick returns but both times the ball rolled out of bounds. Michael Crabtree also fumbled after a catch, but Dallas failed to recover it before the receiver could get back on top of the ball.

Both teams were playing for their playoff lives. When the game was tied 10-10 in the 3rd quarter, Dallas faked a punt from their own 24-yard-line as Chris Jones kept the ball and ran 24 yards. The very next play, the Cowboys attempted a flea-flicker to Terrance Williams that was incomplete. It was perhaps the most aggressive series of calls we’ve seen from Dallas all year.

It was a tough, ugly game. There were 21 total penalties, 14 of which surprisingly belonged to the Raiders. Oakland’s offense executed more consistently while the Cowboys still made crucial stops when needed.

In the end, Dallas survived and advanced in their efforts to sneak back into the NFC playoffs.

Other Notes

  • Dak Prescott had a rough night with two interceptions and no passing touchdowns. One of those picks was due to contact on the throw, but he also missed some opportunities with errant throws and bad reads. He did run one in, though, and had 32 rushing yards total for the game.
  • Alfred Morris and Rod Smith combined for a woeful 74 yards on 23 carries. After a few weeks of big production, this was a good reminder of why we’re so happy to have Ezekiel Elliott returning next week.
  • While Dallas was unable to sack Derek Carr tonight, they applied a lot of pressure and forced several bad throws. Carr only completed 55% of his passes thanks to consistent heat from DeMarcus Lawrence, Sean Lee, and even Taco Charlton on a few plays.
  • It was another solid night from the Cowboys’ young cornerbacks. Despite the big penalty on Oakland’s final drive, Lewis had a solid night all around along with Chidobe Awuzie. Anthony Brown also showed up, having a few nice deflections in crunch time.
  • The Cowboys will head back to Dallas to reunite to with Ezekiel Elliott and prepare a welcoming party for the Seattle Seahawks next Sunday. Seattle was humiliated at home today, losing 42-7 to the visiting Rams. With the Cowboys and Seahawks now tied at 8-6, Dallas can bury them next week with a victory.

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Game Notes

Cowboys and Raiders Offer Many Parallels

Jess Haynie

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Dak Prescott, Derek Carr

For only the 12th time since their first meeting in 1974, the Dallas Cowboys and the Oakland Raiders will face off tonight in what will likely be a season-ending game for the loser. Two of the NFL’s premiere franchises, the Cowboys and Raiders have lived almost entirely separate lives throughout their history. Despite that, the two organizations in many ways seem like mirror images of each other.

The Raiders are up by one game, 6-5, in the previous 11 games between Dallas and Oakland. The Cowboys have won the last two matchups, both of which were in Dallas. This will be the first they’ve played in the Raiders’ stadium since 2005.

Oakland is one of only a few NFL franchises the Cowboys have a losing record against. Dallas is .500 or better against 26 the 31 other teams in the league. The only other franchises with winning records against the Cowboys are the Baltimore Ravens (4-1), Cleveland Browns (17-14). Denver Broncos (8-5), and the Green Bay Packers (19-17).

Throughout NFL history, perhaps now two owners have challenged the establishment more than the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones and the late Al Davis of the Raiders. Davis sued the NFL in 1980 when his efforts to most the team to Los Angeles were blocked. This year, Jerry Jones threatened litigation against the league for how the commissioner’s contract negotiations were being handled.

in 2017, the Cowboys and Raiders were both Super Bowl contenders who have had disappointing the seasons. They go into this week at 7-6 and 6-7 respectively, nearly even, and with similarly slim hopes of still making the playoffs. Both may be still be able to sneak in if they keep winning, but help from other teams is also needed.

Even their quarterbacks can be compared. Dak Prescott and Derek Carr are two of the top young stars at QB in the game but have had adversity this year.  Carr has been trying to bounce back from a major leg injury last year that cut short his breakout season. Prescott, a rookie sensation in 2016, has had to fight the sophomore slump while also dealing with the loss of offensive MVP Ezekiel Elliott.

If that wasn’t enough, both their first names start with a “D” and end with a “K.” Mind-blowing stuff, huh?

All kidding aside, both Dallas and Oakland entered 2017 with championship goals and have had tough blows along the way. Both will be without key players tonight; Dallas still missing Elliott while the Raiders won’t have franchise receiver Amari Cooper. These personnel issues have plagued their seasons and left both on the brink of playoff elimination.

Who stays alive tonight? For two teams that only see each other every four years, this reunion is of incredible importance to both their immediate futures.

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Game Notes

Cowboys, Raiders Week 15 Injury Report

Jess Haynie

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David Irving

Tonight’s game between the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders features two teams still hanging on to slim playoff hopes. Both will have to try to keep their seasons alive without some key players, according the final injury report for Week 15.

Dallas Cowboys

  • WR Brice Butler (foot) – OUT
  • TE James Hanna (knee) – Questionable
  • OT Tyron Smith (back) – Questionable
  • OT La’el Collins (back) – Questionable
  • DL David Irving (concussion) – OUT
  • DT Maliek Collins (foot) – Questionable
  • LB Sean Lee (hamstring/back) – Questionable
  • LB Justin Durant (concussion) – OUT
  • CB Orlando Scandrick (back) – OUT

Don’t be worried by any of the key “questionable” players. They’re all dealing with nagging injuries and will likely be on the injury report the rest of the year. There is no indication that Sean Lee, Maliek Collins, or either of the starting offensive tackles will miss the game.

Brice Butler will miss his return game against his former team, which is more sad for him than any real issue for the Cowboys. Ryan Switzer and Noah Brown could see some more usage on offensive as a result.

Missing David Irving will hurt as Dallas needs to get pressure on Derek Carr. Coupled with Orlando Scandrick’s absence, the Raiders could be dangerous with their passing game. Thankfully, some of this is offset by their star receiving also missing the game.

Oakland Raiders

  • WR Amari Cooper (ankle) – OUT
  • TE Clive Walford (concussion/neck) – OUT
  • C/G Jon Feliciano (concussion) – Questionable
  • DL Mario Edwards Jr (ankle) – OUT
  • DL Denico Autry (hand/ankle) – Questionable
  • CB David Amerson (foot) – Questionable
  • S Ofi Melifonwu (hip) – OUT
  • DB Keith McGill (knee) – Questionable

The big news here is obviously Cooper being out. Michael Crabtree can still ball but Cooper is one of the top receivers in the game. Dallas’ young corners can breathe easier now.

The big injury on defense is Edwards, the son of the former Cowboys cornerback. He’s started all 13 games this year for Oakland. They also could be without starting corner David Amerson due to a foot injury. That could help Dak Prescott to keep the momentum going from his statistical breakthrough last week.

The rest of the players on the Raiders’ report are all backups.

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