For several weeks there have been a number of Cowboy fans calling for the benching of right tackle Doug Free who has struggled with penalties and given up sacks all season.
On Sunday, those fans were surely happy to see Free taken out of the game in the first half. Then those same fans were likely upset to see him back in the game on the very next drive. Then happy to see him taken out again later. And so it went for most of the game, until the end.
The Cowboys employed a rather unusual strategy against the Cincinnati Bengals by rotating the right guard position almost every single offensive series. It looked as though the Cowboys had chosen to bench Free in the first half when they inserted Parnell into the game in his place. Then the very next series, Free was back in the game making it seem as though he had just been taken out due to a minor injury. However, Free and Parnell continued to alternate series for the majority of the game.
On the Cowboys' last two drives, which netted 10 game-winning points, they went with Free as the right tackle for both drives.
Free had played poorly enough in recent weeks to warrant being benched, but the argument against the move was that Parnell was not experienced or talented enough to play any better.
Perhaps that's why the Cowboys decided to give them both a try on Sunday. Unfortunately for Dallas, the revolving door strategy was not exactly all that effective as neither tackle did much to contain the defensive front of the Bengals. Tony Romo was sacked three times in the game for a loss of 29 yards. The Bengals surely would have recorded more sacks if it were not for the craftiness of Romo whose QB pressures were in the double digits. Of course, this should not all be blamed solely on the right tackle position.
All the time he spent on the ground might indicate the opposite, but after the game Romo said he thought his offensive line's performance was actually quite good.
"I thought we did a pretty good job of blocking them most of the game," Romo said. "They have a good front. They give you a lot of challenges. I thought our guys fought hard all day."
Despite taking him out of the game numerous times, it was Free who took the field at the most crucial moments for the Cowboys. Trailing 19-10 midway through the fourth quarter, Free was in the game at right tackle instead of Parnell in the drive that eventually finished with a touchdown pass to Dez Bryant. However, Free was called for a holding penalty during the drive.
When the Cowboys got the ball back only down two points they strayed away from their game plan of switching the two players every series and decided to keep Free in the game. Dallas successfully moved the ball through the air and on the ground for 50 yards and capped off the drive with a game-winning field goal by Dan Baily.
Romo did not have much of an opinion on the unusual back and forth on the right side of his offensive line.
"Well, I've never really played tackle before," Romo said. "They did a good job. You can say the same about the defensive guys too, having to see different players each series. I think we did a good job there."
The right tackle position will be something to keep an eye on moving forward as the coaching staff has made it clear Free's place in the starting lineup is anything but safe.