The Cowboys built on elegant mansion with skill position players Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Jason Witten, and DeMarco Murray, but they forgot to first check the quality of the foundation in the offensive line. In 2012, that foundation has caved in.
From a pass protection standpoint, Romo has made the offensive linemen appear better than they are for years. As a unit, the line has allowed a sack rate of 5.3 percent in 2012—ranking 14th in the NFL. The truth is that Romo has ducked and dodged his way out of dozens of sacks, making a weak offensive line look average, at least in terms of sacks yielded.
Romo can’t save the offensive line from the amount of pressure they give up, however. On the year, I’ve tracked Romo as being pressured on 35.6 percent of his dropbacks. According to Pro Football Focus, that would rank as the seventh-highest mark in the NFL.
The biggest individual offender, as you might imagine, has been right tackle Doug Free. Amazingly, Free has already allowed more pressure in 2012 than he did in all of 2011 at left tackle. His 7.6 percent pressure rate and 1.1 percent sack rate both lead the team (in a bad way):
The pressure and sack rates for offensive tackles are generally higher than those for interior linemen, for obvious reasons. Smith, who I’ve labeled as giving up two sacks this year, has really gotten lucky since he’s allowed pressure at a rate nearly twice that of last year.
On the inside, Nate Livings has really been underrated in pass protection. I’ve attributed four sacks to the left guard, but that number doesn’t reflect the quality of his play. While Free has allowed nearly seven times as many pressures as sacks and Smith has yielded 11 times as many pressures as sacks, Livings’ total pressures aren’t even double the sacks he’s allowed, i.e. when he’s gotten beat, it’s been noticeable because Romo has often been sacked. Livings’ 1.3 pressure rate is really good, though, suggesting he’s playing better than his sack numbers indicate.
While everyone knows the struggles of Free, Bernadeau may very well be playing just as poorly. A 3.4 percent pressure rate at guard is horrible, and as I’ll show tomorrow, Bernadeau has been just as poor as a run blocker.