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What’s old is new again: how the offensive line continues to drive the cowboys

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In the 1990s, the Dallas Cowboys’ front line took on an almost mythical character. Every time he called one of their games, John Madden pointed out how dominant they were. He marveled at how someone as tall as Nate Newton could move so gracefully. That unit was so dominant that presumably Larry Allen would sometimes make the sound of a train horn when he got into his position. It was his way of telling the defensive line that Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time greatest rusher, who led the league in four out of five years during their decade of dominance, was about to run after him, and there was was nothing any of them could do to stop it.

Having a good offensive line is like a boxer hitting the body. It won’t be an instant knockout, and it’s far from flashy, but it wears off slowly on opponents. It eats up their energy. Sometimes you see a defense getting demoralized after two or three quarters of an hour. If you look at one successful year the Cowboys have ever had, you will see their offensive line leading the way.

It’s no surprise then that the Cowboys have one of the best offensive lines in the league so far in 2021. Pro Football Focus has them down because it allows the second-least pressure on passing snaps and ranks them as the league’s best performing line up to and including week 6. It’s no surprise that players with offensive skills from Dallas are among the best games. This excellence of groups is nothing new. The Cowboys have invested heavily in its construction for the past 10 years, using three first-round picks on offensive linemen and awarding big dollars to Lael Collins. Until a few years ago, that investment paid off before injuries derailed the lines’ continuity.

Which brings us to Zach Martin. A good argument can be made that Martin, who was called up because Jerry Jones insisted that the team select Johnny Manziel instead, in the belief that the quarterback long out of the league would insure the Cowboys. relevance for the next decadeis the best player on the team. He doesn’t score touchdowns and his impact isn’t as marked as Micah Parsons, Randy Gregory or Trevon Diggs, but Martin is arguably the most dominant player in his position, with six All-Pro teams and the league’s squad. whole decade. the 2010s despite being only 30 years old.

What is Surprisingly, Tyron Smith, who has missed all but the first two games of the 2020 season, is not just back, but playing as well as he has in years. It wasn’t illogical to assume that Smith’s best years were behind him. He is 31 years old and 31 years old, entered the league at the age of 20 and has not played a full season since 2015 due to various injuries. But this season, perhaps because he was finally able to rest enough to allow his body to fully heal after only playing two games in 2020, he’s playing like he’s 25 again. Equally surprising was Terence Steele’s play, who, like almost everyone on the team, from players to coaches, has struggled this past season. He has more than replaced Collins, who qualifies to play against the Minnesota Vikings on Halloween, after a five-game ban.

Connor Williams has played well. He is an above average security guard who… improved its pass-blocking efficiency every year he has been in the competition. Tyler Biadasz, who is the weak point of the attack line compared to the other members of the unit, has apparently in the position.

Not every member of this offensive line is as dominant as Smith and Martin, but they don’t have to be. More than any other unit in the football team, the offensive line has to work together. Their success is based on working as one. And after seasons of shuffling players between positions, the Cowboys have found a lineup that works. That in itself is also surprising. Since Travis Frederick, Martin and Smith’s fellow first-rounder and long-time running mate, missed the 2018 season after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barr syndrome (and eventually retiring at age 29, ahead of the 2020 season) , this group is on the move. Last year, none of the top three offensive linemen played together for a single snap, Pro Football Focus ranked them as the 27th best unit in the NFL.

But now, at last, the veterans of the lines are healthy. The younger players have improved compared to last season. Now that Collins is back, the offensive line will probably only get better. And as the offensive line has returned to one of the best in the league, everything else has fallen into place.

Dak Prescott, the franchise quarterback who holds the league’s third-highest passer rating, has plenty of time to survey the field. Zeke Elliott, whose rejuvenation, unsurprisingly, has come a long way as the offensive line has improved, pairs with Tony Pollard to have the third-highest rush yards per carry.

And so, in a season where we’ve seen a lot of new things, creative offensive play, a receding split rotation that combines strength with speed, game-changing players across defense has relied much of the success on the oldest proven method of Winning: Protecting the quarterback and opening holes for the running backs.

Tyron Smith, once the league’s youngest player, has now been on this team longer than anyone else. Zach Martin has been here third longest. They are back to set the tone as they have for so many years. The Cowboys win a couple of times as the offensive line even shifts in the final game of the game with their Landry victory formation and they do so because of the oldest part of the team.

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