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Doug Free Fall: Cowboys Tackle Off to Terrible Start

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Doug Free Fall: Cowboys Tackle Off to Terrible Start

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The entire football watching world has been pretty adept at boiling down the entire Cowboys season thus far to the play of Tony Romo.

We'd argue against it, but we've partaken in the game and it will remain a fun one so long as Romo says things like "You have to minimize turnovers in key situations" during conference calls. That's sorta like Custer saying that you have to minimize losses in key battles, isn't it?

At any rate, the Romo focus has taken the spotlight away from some of the other Cowboys who have contributed to the 2-2 start. Tyron Smith hasn't gotten enough love for the start to his NFL career and DeMarcus Ware can't ever be praised enough for the job he does defensively for the Cowboys.

On the flip side, no player has benefitted more from Romowatch than Doug Free. Usually players who sign big new contracts and promptly fall flat on their faces become bright shiny beacons for criticism, but Free has mostly avoided the glare through the first four weeks.

A breakdown of the Cowboys' short yardage productivity in the Dallas Morning News makes it hard to believe that will continue. The Cowboys have had 31 plays where they need three yards or fewer to get a first down or a touchdown. They have run the ball on 18 of those plays, with only five of them getting the yards needed to score or get a fresh set of downs.

Not good, but the plays run behind Free are even worse. They have run five times for six yards to Free's side while runs to Smith's side have resulted in 35 yards on eight carries. That does not look good for Free, especially since Smith was drafted because of his skills as a pass blocker. In total, runs that Pro Football Focus judged to go right behind Free have resulted in just 3.5 yards per carry so far this season.

The passing numbers are a little better, but not great. Free's given up eight pressures, per PFF, and two hits, but he hasn't allowed a sack yet this season. The pressures are the most on the team, but the biggest issue in pass protection really seems to be the interior line because pressure up the middle on a quarterback like Romo -- who doesn't have ideal height -- is especially troubling.

Free's been bad this year and it is having a negative impact in both parts of the offensive attack. His struggles might not be as grand as Romo's, but they are just as serious for a team that's operating with a pretty thin margin for error these days.

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