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Is There Reason For Concern About The Cowboys Offensive Line?

Kevin Brady

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Jonathan Cooper

Last week, Pro Football Focus set the Cowboys Twitter world on fire by sending out one simple list.

The Top Offensive Lines in the NFL.

Long story short, they had the Cowboys vaunted offensive line 9th, which sent a large portion of our fan base into a frenzy and led to some serious discussion about the status of the team’s offensive line.

PFF’s main reason for sending the Cowboys down in their rankings was that they are enduring turnover at two starting positions. Losing longtime starting right tackle Doug Free, and one of the most underappreciated players on the 2016 roster in Ronald Leary, the Cowboys have to get creative in order to fill out the “starting five.”

Both Leary and Free were solid starters in Dallas, and were certainly underrated by most of the team’s own fan base, but I don’t believe the future at right tackle or left guard is as bleak as some are painting it out to be.

Of course, La’el Collins is sliding to right tackle. You know, the same La’el Collins who showed flashes of greatness during his rookie season in 2015, albeit at guard. There are some questions about just how smooth his transition to tackle will be, but I personally have faith that Collins will be fine on the right side.La'el Collins

What I mostly wanted to discuss today, however, was the Cowboys situation at left guard.

Former first round pick turned “bust” in the eyes of many, Jonathan Cooper has been penciled in as the starter there during the early parts of the offseason. After playing in a handful games for the Cleveland Browns in 2016, Cooper was signed by the Cowboys prior to their playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Dallas decided to keep Cooper for the 2017 season, now giving him a chance to compete for and earn that left guard spot.

While there are legitimate questions about how good Cooper really is, or can be, there is no question that he is in the perfect place to reach his full potential.

Whatever that potential may be.

Playing with All-Pro Tyron Smith to his left and All-Pro Travis Frederick to his right, Cooper will be starting at the most comfortable guard spot in the entire league. No, it will not be easy for Cooper, nor do I expect him to be a great player, but I do believe he can be a solid piece amongst this fearsome line.

Kevin Brady on Twitter

No, he’s not great and will be the 5th best starter for sure. But he proved last year he can operate off doubles, and get to the 2nd level https://t.co/HbflJgxhIn

Plus, I actually liked what I saw when watching the tape on Cooper in 2016. Yes, there were inconsistencies, but Cooper showed the ability to operate off double teams well on both DUO and inside/outside zone blocking schemes.

Plays which the Cowboys use a lot of, by the way.

I write all of that to say, we should still have confidence in the Dallas Cowboys offensive line. They still have three of (arguably) the top ten offensive linemen in the league, and now add two players which were once considered to be top draft prospects.

Sure, it might not work, and it might not be as pretty as it has been since 2014. But, I don’t think there is a reason for panic about the changes on this offensive line just yet.

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Die-hard Cowboys fan from the Northeast, so you know I am here to defend the ‘boys whenever necessary. Began writing for a WordPress Cowboys Blog, and am currently a college student. Lets get going.

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5 Comments
  • Ethan Chazin

    Really sick and tired of these WORRY articles @ the O line. 1st of all, L’ael Collins is a major upgrade over Free at RT in terms of athleticism. Not sure why none of you bloggers are focusing on the glass is half full. Sure Free was a 10-year known entity which included untimely penalties that put the O in difficult situations and/or negated huge plays. With respect to left guard, I understand Leary performed well (esp. so as an UDFA) but let’s not pretend he was an All-Pro. Cooper was the 7th overall pick in the draft, so put him or Green between Tyrone Smith and Travis Frederick and I am fairly confident in saying that will not be a position of risk. I get it, you have to write about something. So why not tell us how players like Tapper are doing with their rehab, write about players that seem significantly improved (Mayowa, Thornton, Nazochia, ???) or give us fans reasons for excitement 3 weeks away from the start of training camp.

    • https://kevinrobertbrady.wordpress.com Kevin Brady

      Ethan, I actually think my article was more optimistic than most I’ve seen. I am in “wait and see” mode on Collins moving to tackle and Cooper starting at guard, but I do feel pretty good about both.

  • John Williams

    I will quit worrying once we see the games happen. I think between Cooper and Chaz Green, they potentially could be a better offensive line than last year.

    • https://kevinrobertbrady.wordpress.com Kevin Brady

      That’s fair, John. I think we are all justified in having some doubts.

  • redsoxu571

    People need to understand what that list was doing.

    PFF did NOT have “reasoning”. It was not trying to actually predict the best OLs. If it had to pick one, I GUARANTEE it would pick Dallas’s OL. It was RATING the OL according to a methodology, one that penalized poor past performance, did not attempt to project future performance, and depending largely on a line having strong PFF ratings across all five spots.

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Sean’s Scout: RB Rod Smith Proving Valuable Offensive Threat

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: RB Rod Smith Proving Valuable Offensive Threat

The Cowboys have just one more game to get through without their star running back Ezekiel Elliott, but Alfred Morris and Rod Smith deserve a ton of credit for the way they’ve been able to fill in out of the backfield for Zeke Elliott. Throughout the time Elliott has missed though, the Cowboys have lacked the explosive plays on offense that he can provide – until Rod Smith was given an opportunity last week at the Giants.

Smith complimented Morris exceptionally well, running with quickness and power to prove his case for more of a role on offense behind Elliott moving forward. It was the Ohio State product’s consecutive touchdowns of 81 yards through the air and 15 yards on the ground that sealed the game for the Cowboys in week 14.

Here is a closer look at Rod Smith’s performance from last week in this latest Sean’s Scout.

Smith3 – Streamable

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

 

The Cowboys offensive line was dominant as always against a tough New York defensive front, and this first play is a great look at their execution in space and on the move. Rod Smith’s decisiveness when hitting the hole with speed and balance was the first thing I noticed on the game tape.

The best thing Smith does on this play comes at the second level, where running backs can truly make a difference in Dallas. As RG Zack Martin rides his man out of the play entirely, he gets in front of Smith who is seeing the play develop straight ahead. With his long strides, Smith is able to smoothly get through traffic and continue accelerating up field through arm tackles for a big gain.

Smith2 – Streamable

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These same traits are seen with Rod Smith as a pass catcher – something he does effortlessly to also help fill the void left by Elliott. Watch how quickly Smith commits to his angle up the field after catching this dump pass from Dak Prescott, attacking a defender that has the angle on him after the catch.

Rod subtly leans to the right just enough to make the defender hesitate long enough to allow his burst to evade him and gain extra yards falling forward.

Smith4 – Streamable

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

 

Smith essentially does the same thing without the ball in his hands here, on his 81 yard catch and run for a touchdown. Setting up the safety out of the slot to be beat across his face, Smith separates from him at the stem and then does a great job getting depth on his route into the vacated middle of the field. With blockers to help him reach the end zone, Smith turns this busted coverage by the Giants into the game’s biggest play.

Smith1 – Streamable

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

 

This last play I chose to show is probably the least well-blocked attempt for Smith out of the ones in this Sean’s Scout, but there is still a lot to like about what Rod does here with the ball in his hands.

The Giants might be a two-win football team, but they still have marquee players up front, particularly DE Olivier Vernon. Smith does well here to keep his feet moving as he cuts this play to the backside. Vernon does well to limit the potential gain on this play by staying away from the block of Jason Witten, as Smith is taken down by Darian Thompson.

The numbers the Giants had to commit to stopping the run was still a huge reason why Prescott had a career day throwing the football, and Rod Smith’s readiness to step in at RB was a deciding factor in getting Dallas to 7-6.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Proving to be one of the Dallas Cowboys most valuable players, considering his cost (under contract through 2018), and ability to contribute on special teams and offense, Rod Smith is the perfect RB3 for this team.

Smith is not elite in any one area, and is not a prototypical RB from a physical standpoint, but his contributions as a runner, pass catcher, and blocker could remain critical to the Cowboys’ hopes of reaching the playoffs behind this offense – even when Ezekiel Elliott is back in the fold.

Tell us what you think about “Sean’s Scout: RB Rod Smith Proving Valuable Offensive Threat” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Dallas Cowboys

Rod Smith Vs Alfred Morris: Who’s The Cowboys Real RB1?

Brian Martin

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Rod Smith Vs Alfred Morris: Who's Cowboys' Real RB1?

The Dallas Cowboys are less than a week away from welcoming back their talented Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott, but until then they still have a game to play against the Oakland Raiders. That means we will have one more week of Alfred Morris and Rod Smith handling the workload, but which RB is sitting at the top of the Cowboys depth chart?

Unfortunately, this is exactly the type of decision that can end up winning or losing a game. Both Alfred Morris and Rod Smith have had their moments during Ezekiel Elliott’s absence, but neither one of them have really distanced themselves from the other. So, should Rod Smith or Alfred Morris receive the majority of the workload against the Raiders Sunday?

A Case for Rod Smith

RB Rod Smith and QB Dak PrescottRod Smith might just have had is coming out party last week against the New York Giants. Against their divisional rival, in what was a must win game for the Cowboys, Smith rushed for 47 yards on six carries and added another 113 yards through the air on five catches. He also found himself in the end zone twice, once on a rushing touchdown and the other on a receiving touchdown.

You may or may not agree, but I believe that “Lightning” Rod Smith was largely responsible for igniting the Cowboys offense and helping them pull away from the Giants last Sunday. He accounted for over 160 total yards and two touchdowns by himself and didn’t receive the majority of his playing time until later in the game.

Rod Smith certainly has traits that make him a more desirable RB over Alfred Morris. First off, he is a more complete back. He is better in pass protection and at catching the ball out of the backfield. But, he is also starting to show up in the running game and is averaging 4.5 yards a carry this season. His size (6’3″, 235) also makes him a better short yardage back, although I wish he would deliver more of a blow at the end of his runs.

A Case for Alfred Morris

RB Alfred MorrisAlthough there’s nothing particularly special that stands out about Alfred Morris, he has proven time and time again he is more than capable of carrying the workload. He has received the majority of the workload during Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension and has performed pretty well. In fact, he is averaging 5 yards a carry this season, which is better than any other RB on the Cowboys roster, including Elliott.

Alfred Morris has looked pretty good this season and is playing with more of a spring in his step than I have seen from him in probably his entire career. Last Sunday against the Giants he received the the majority of the workload and finished the game with 19 carries for 62 yards. Not particularly spectacular, but the week prior he did rush for 127 yards on 27 carries in the victory over the Washington Redskins.

Like I mentioned earlier, Morris is a tried-and-true RB in the NFL and is at his best when he can continue to pound the rock and wear down opposing defenses. That is what he did against the Redskins, but he has his limitations as well. Despite his years in the league, he still struggles in pass protection and is limited in what he can do in the passing game. But, he does seem to have the trust of the Cowboys coaching staff.

✭✭✭✭✭

Personally, I would like to see more of Rod Smith this coming Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. I really like what I’ve seen from him in both the running game and in the passing game. I just think he is a more dangerous and versatile weapon then Alfred Morris. His presence on the field really opens up what the Cowboys can do offensively.

I don’t mean any disrespect to Alfred Morris at all. I just think that Rod Smith has proven he is a more dangerous offensive weapon of the two. I don’t know if the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff will agree or not, but I truly believe Rod Smith could once again be the X factor against the Oakland Raiders.

Of course, both Rod Smith and Alfred Morris will have to take the back seat once Ezekiel Elliott returns. So, this discussion really only has any credibility for this week in yet another must win situation against the Oakland Raiders.

Who do you like better… Rod Smith or Alfred Morris?

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La’el Collins’ Toughness And Availability Earning High Praise

Brian Martin

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La'el Collins' Toughness And Availability Earning High Praise 1

The decision by the Dallas Cowboys to move La’el Collins from left guard to right tackle was met by some skepticism by quite a few members of Cowboys Nation during the off-season. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was one of those skeptical of the move, but I’m not afraid to admit he has exceeded my expectations.

In all honesty, I always believed that La’el Collins’ best position in the NFL is on the interior of the offense of line as a guard. I thought he could use his strength and athleticism to his advantage when working in a phone booth against slower and less athletic defensive tackles. That’s not to say I didn’t think he would make a good right tackle, I just thought he had Pro Bowl potential as a guard.

Strangely enough, Collins has probably put together a Pro Bowl caliber season in his first season starting at the right tackle position for the Cowboys. He has become an upgrade over the previous starter Doug Free, and is really starting to earn high praise from the brass. Stephen Jones in particular has been impressed with Collins, especially considering how he has played after missing two full weeks of practice.

Mark Lane on Twitter

DallasCowboys COO Stephen Jones told @1053thefan La’el Collins has answered the bell after his contract extension.

I personally agree with everything Stephen Jones said about La’el Collins. I’ve really enjoyed watching his progression this season, but I have been really impressed how he played the last two weeks after missing so much practice.

You might not of known, but Collins has missed two full weeks of practice due to a herniated disc in his back. This is put his availability to play against the Washington Redskins and New York Giants in jeopardy, but somehow he has toughened up and played considerably well.

This unfortunately will be something he has to continue to battle through the rest of the season, but I’m not going to bet against him playing. He absolutely makes this offensive line better and I would hate to see Chaz Green or Byron Bell back on the field after the way they played as feel-ins.

La’el Collins has without a doubt earned my respect and I think it’s about time we all recognize the player he is turning into. I know the Dallas Cowboys appreciate all that he does and believe that his recent contract extension is money well spent.

What do you think about La’el Collins?

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