The Cowboys know exactly what doomed their 2017 season and they’re determined not to let it happen again.
Just so you know, in their opinion, Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game suspension wasn’t the main culprit.
Neither was Dak Prescott or the Cowboys’ broken passing game. No, it wasn’t the defense and it’s uncanny knack for not forcing turnovers either.
The Cowboys think their season cratered because the NFL’s best offensive line in 2016 was just pretty good much of last.
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And when left tackle Tyron Smith didn’t play, the offense line ranged from atrocious to average.
That’s why the Cowboys are expected to sign free agent tackle Cameron Fleming, and free agent guard-center Marcus Martin, while re-signing backup guard-center Joe Looney.
The Cowboys took a similar approach two years ago.
Remember when Tony Romo’s broken collarbone forced the Cowboys to play backup Brandon Weedon and trade for Matt Cassel? Neither was any good, and the Cowboys suffered for it.
That’s why they tried to trade up and get Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook on draft day before settling for Prescott in the fourth round.
Bottoms line: They finally understood the importance of having a young quarterback ready to play whenever Romo couldn’t, so they were determined to find a quarterback.
Now, they’re taking a similar approach to fixing their offensive line.
A source said Fleming will compete for the starting right tackle job. If he’s good enough to start, the Cowboys could move La’el Collins back to left guard.
Martin and Looney are viewed as backups, which means the Cowboys could still spend a premium draft choice on a left guard if they don’t view Fleming as a starter.
Then, Fleming would become the Cowboys’ third tackle, or swing tackle, capable of being a solid contributor at left or right tackle.
The NFL, as you know, is a game of attrition. Quality depth is not optional.
The Cowboys didn’t have it last year, and they’re trying to correct that issue now. This team is built around it’s offensive line, and it must play better than it did last season for this offense to be at its best.
Think of it this way: A Porsche with a flat tire isn’t a Porsche, it’s car that won’t drive.
The Cowboys’ offensive line took some significant hits before last season began.
Left Guard Rob Leary signed with Denver and right tackle Doug Free retired, forcing the Cowboys to move Collins to right tackle, a new position.
Then Chaz Green and Jonathan Cooper battled to be the starting left guard. We probably shouldn’t be surprised, given all the movement, that the Cowboys’ offensive line was less than stellar.
But its flaws were hidden until Smith, who struggled with a litany of ailments all season, missed consecutive games against Atlanta and Philadelphia.
Smith, obviously hampered, returned for a loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
In the Cowboys’ first eight games, Prescott was sacked 10 times in 261 pass attempts. He was hit 27 times and pressured 87 times.
In the next three games without Elliott and Smith for two of them, Prescott was sacked 14 times in 89 passing attempts. He was hit eight times and pressured 41 times.
It all started with the debacle in Atlanta, when Green allowed four sacks in a little more than two quarters before he was benched. Bell replaced him and gave up two more sacks to more Adrain Clayborn, who finished with a career-high six sacks.
Prescott never recovered from the beating he took in Atlanta.
He became skittish in the pocket, at times, and hurried throws because he didn’t believe his blindside was protected.
The Cowboys need Prescott to be better in 2018.
Elliott will definitely help; a dominant offensive line will help more.