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Mailbag: The 4th-Down Decisions; Zack's Impact?

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It appears that when Zack Martin is in the lineup, this offense can have some success as a ball-control, run-first offense, which then prevents the defense from getting overexposed. Is one lineman, albeit an All-Pro lineman, really making that much difference or are their other factors that seem to stop any potential for this offense to be consistently productive without Dak? — JEFF PARSONS / AMARILLO, TX

Rob: Yes, Martin makes that much of a difference. The running game took a major jump in production when he returned from a concussion earlier this month. And by moving him out to right tackle, he allowed the coaching staff to get the best five healthy linemen on the field. But overall the Cowboys have struggled up front because there's a cumulative effect to missing your three best offensive linemen (Tyron Smith, La'el Collins on IR) and the impact that has over a 60-play game when you're also without your starting quarterback. Clearly it's been hard to get things established in the run game on a consistent basis. And without Martin and Cam Erving for at least the next couple weeks, the protection has to be a concern moving forward.

David: It would have been nice to see Zack play more against a good front like Washington's, because I think it'd help us answer the question. Obviously, Zack is just one guy out of five. But this offense looked serviceable in the one game he played tackle, and it looked completely lost in the three games when he was out of the lineup. I doubt that's all due to him, but it definitely doesn't help.

I am wondering why offensive coordinator Kellen Moore/head coach Mike McCarthy decided go for it on those two decisive fourth downs deep in their own territory against Washington, especially since the game was close with a lot of time left in the game. Can you shed some light on the decision process involved with those plays? — BRYCE KEEN / WESTMINSTER, CO

Rob: On the fake punt, I thought special teams coordinator John Fassel explained the rationale the best: they were way down in time of possession and felt like they needed a big play to keep the drive going and give the defense a rest. They apparently got the look they wanted. Problem was, Washington stayed home on Hunter Niswander and C.J. Goodwin down the field and prevented Cedrick Wilson from getting a pass off. On the fourth-down pass to CeeDee Lamb, Moore said they liked their matchup on the perimeter, but needing less than a yard to convert, he basically said it's fair to second-guess his decision to throw instead of run in that situation. Two costly plays, obviously.

David: McCarthy said himself that he has tried to establish an aggressive mentality from Week 1. I really didn't mind the first decision, because it was 4th & short. Maybe just try a simpler play call. The decision to fake the punt on 4th & 10 was not aggressive, it was simply reckless. McCarthy would never admit this publicly, but my best guess is that he was frustrated by his offense's inability to move the ball, and he was nervous his defense wouldn't be able to hold up. That led to a decision to try something bold. Way too bold, as it turns out.

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