ARLINGTON, Texas – In the book of football clichés, you always hear "everything starts up front."
So let's start there. Unfortunately, that's where it ends as well for the Cowboys.
This offensive line might have started off well, but by the end, that's where this game was lost for the Cowboys. And that's strange to say because we entered this season still thinking this O-line was an elite group that would handle their personnel changes with ease.
So far after four games, this unit has not only been handled twice, resulting in two losses, but didn't look overly impressive in the other two outings as well.
This is becoming a problem, and it's the reason the Cowboys were on the wrong side of a 35-30 shootout here at AT&T Stadium.
Everything the Cowboys were doing in the first half just didn't work in the second. In fact, it wasn't true dominance in the first two quarters, but Dak Prescott was able to use his legs and scramble his way for some big plays. On one scoring drive in the second quarter, Dak escaped sacks three different times, including on the touchdown strike to Brice Butler. It was looking good when the Cowboys were up 24-13, but there were clear signs the offensive line was having problems getting the Rams blocked up front.
Aaron Donald, who seriously might be the best defensive tackle in football, said the Rams made some minor adjustments and fixed the problems.
Minor? Maybe so, but they had major results.
The Cowboys had 287 total yards in the first half, including 133 on the ground. In the second half, they managed just 153 yards of total offense with only 56 yards on the ground. Don't forget, this was a team in the lead for most of the game trying to ground out first downs and move the chains.
Yet, they just couldn't.
This can't be about losing Chaz Green and having to start Jonathan Cooper. That was a back-and-forth battle at camp that both players seemingly had a chance to win. While the coaches must feel like Green has more talent or upside, or both, there obviously isn't a big difference between the two. I have no doubts Green would've had his struggles as well, just like the entire unit did.
As much as we like to describe Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and Tyron Smith as Pro Bowlers and All-Pros, it obviously doesn't always translate to on-field dominance. Those guys were starting in 2015 when the Cowboys won just four games and ranked last in the league in short-yardage rushing.
It's obviously more than three guys who make a line. Maybe we're seeing firsthand how much Ron Leary helped open up some holes. And maybe Doug Free wasn't as bad as people thought. OK, that's a fact – Free was never as bad as he was made out to be. But I'm not blaming the Cowboys for the decisions they made. In fact, Free's retirement wasn't even their decision at all.
While I was pretty adamant that the Cowboys should consider re-signing Leary despite all the money already tied up on the line, I understand why they didn't. They still haven't locked up Martin, and considering the bank that Leary got, it's hard to justify all that guaranteed money on the line.
Then again, if it's the strength of your team, keep feeding it.
Needless to say, neither Leary nor Free is walking through that door come Monday. This is a problem that has to get fixed somehow.
And the answer probably isn't with a personnel switch among these five, but rather scheme changes that could alter our thinking of this group altogether.
Maybe the O-line needs more help. Maybe they need more guys to stay in and help chip off the edge or help with max protection. As great as Zeke can be in the open field, maybe keep him in to pick up a blitz or just a screaming rusher.
This isn't to say the Cowboys never give help to their line because they certainly do. But the theory that this group can just show up, maul people off the ball and let Zeke eat all day long is simply inaccurate.
It didn't happen Sunday. It hasn't happened all year. And right now, it doesn't look like the Cowboys are anywhere close to getting back to that way of playing.