Yesterday, I published a breakdown of the offensive line’s pass protection thus far in 2012. As poor as the line has been at providing Romo with time to throw the football, they’ve been even worse as run blockers. I track the location of each run for the Cowboys, generally listing three players as blocking at the point-of-attack on each run. On a lead dive, for example, center Ryan Cook, guard Mackenzy Bernadeau, and fullback Lawrence Vickers may all be listed as blocking at the point. In tracking this information, we can get a sense of where the Cowboys are having the most success (relatively speaking) in the running game.
The results aren’t pretty. Below, I’ve listed the YPC for Cowboys running backs with each lineman at the point.
- LT Tyron Smith: 4.20 YPC
- LG Nate Livings: 3.68 YPC
- C Ryan Cook: 2.81 YPC
- RG Mackenzy Bernadeau: 3.49 YPC
- RT Doug Free: 3.58 YPC
Those are some eye-popping numbers, especially for Cook and Free. Although we’d expect the YPC to be lower when running behind interior linemen because the Cowboys generally run up the middle in short-yardage situations, anything under about 3.5 YPC for a center is unacceptable. The fact that runs with Cook at the point have gone for 2.81 YPC is really astounding.
Playing on the outside, Free’s numbers are even worse. Runs behind left guard Nate Livings have gone for more yards than when the Cowboys run behind Free. Also consider that DeMarco Murray’s 48-yard scamper in Week 1 came with Free at the point, although the right tackle didn’t do much on the play. Taking that away, Dallas backs have totaled a miniscule 2.48 YPC with Free at the point. With all of his struggles in pass protection, it’s time to wonder if Free will have a job in 2013.
Combining their pass protection efficiency with their run blocking, I’ve graded each of the five offensive linemen listed above through Week 12.
- LT Tyron Smith: C
- LG Nate Livings: C+
- C Ryan Cook: D
- RG Mackenzy Bernadeau: D-
- RT Doug Free: F
To say that the Cowboys need to upgrade their offensive line is an understatement. At this point, the easiest way to fix a line that could see three and even four new faces next season is to flirt with moving Free to guard. His lack of athleticism won’t be such a problem there, and if the ‘Boys can acquire a starter-quality right tackle in the draft or via free agency, they can potentially kill two birds with one stone. If center Phil Costa can play as well in 2013 as he did in limited action this year, all of a sudden a revamped line of Smith-Livings-Costa-Free-Insert Name Here doesn’t look quite as porous.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.
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