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First Impression: Analyst Sees Progress On O-Line

After the game Monday night, for all the problems the first offensive line had running the ball, practice on Wednesday took on a new importance to me. I wanted to see how Bill Callahan and Wes Phillips were going to maybe try and adjust some techniques they normally do scheme-wise, but what surprised me is it was the same things technique-wise they had been practicing for the last three weeks. There have been plenty of times in practice where the line has been able to create space for these backs to run the ball, but instead of panic, there was more of a focus of trying to do things the right way, whether it was head placement, steps and finishing the block. This past week, I thought the practices were much better for the line technique-wise and even though it wasn't always perfect, at least it was something to build on.

For the Chargers game, I had the great pleasure of doing the Dallas Cowboys radio broadcast with the great Brad Sham and Kristi Scales, and at the end of the first half, Brad asked me what I was most impressed with about the game to that point. Without thinking a second about it, I said the offensive line. Before this broadcast, I took the San Diego and Green Bay game apart on tape and I came away really not sure how the Cowboys offensive line was going to be able to handle Vaughn Martin, Corey Liuget and Shaun Phillips. I watched rookie Melvin Ingram destroy the Packers' first and second offensive tackles. The more I studied the Chargers, the more I believed that this could be a really rough game for the Cowboys running backs, but more importantly Tony Romo.

The last thing this team needed was Romo taking some unnecessary shots in the pocket because of a missed assignment or block like what happened in Oakland. In the game Saturday night, there weren't the missed assignments or defenders running free on the quarterback, but more than adequate time for Romo to read the field, maybe slide a little bit to his right or left to buy a few more seconds, but for the most part the protection was outstanding. There was a time during the broadcast that I told Brad, these Cowboys receivers have to do a better job of winning on the outside against these defensive backs because the line was more than doing their job up front handling those Chargers defensive players that last week I observed knocking Aaron Rodgers all over the place.

The biggest improvement that I noticed was in the running game. Monday night there was no room for DeMarco Murray or Felix Jones to work, Saturday night was a whole different story. There were lanes and opportunity for all the backs to run. When you watch Murray, he is at his best  when he can get the ball, use his vision to see the blocks develop and hit the hole. Where the offensive line failed so badly against Oakland was at the point of attack, not getting any push. Against the Chargers, those combo blocks that I saw on Wednesday in practice were working well. Doug Free and Mackenzy Bernadeau were able to get push, control the down linemen and get off on the linebacker. Tyron Smith was able to fire off the ball, cut off Vaughn Martin on the backside and finish his block. It was a totally different looking offensive line from what we saw before.

On Sunday, I will sit down and go play-by-play of the game film, and I am sure there will be some plays where this line wasn't as sound as it needed to be. I expect that, but from what my thoughts were going into this game against the Chargers, at least it was a big step in the right direction.     

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