For most of 2011, the play of the Cowboys offensive line was acknowledged as an issue for the team, but rarely was it pointed out that the rebuilt front five was actually not playing too much worse than last year.
Despite dropping the experience (and the contracts) of Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis and Andre Gurode. For the first month of 2011, the team went with two rookies up front, Tyron Smith and Bill Nagy, with a second-year former undrafted guy at center, Phil Costa. Each had their growing pains, at times, but Colombo, Davis and Gurode were themselves trending downward in 2010.
This season, the offensive line allowed 39 sacks, which is eight more than in 2010. Protection was definitely a problem for Tony Romo, who was dropped only seven times in his five-and-a-half games in 2010, but was brought down 36 times this year, an average of more than two per game.
The bright spot of the line was clearly the right tackle, Smith, the team's pick at No. 9 overall. As he continues to develop, the Cowboys may consider flip-flopping he and left tackle Doug Free, while the interior of the line may see some new faces. Montrae Holland, 31, played most of the season at left guard, and Kyle Kosier, now 33, slid to the right side. But the team is motivated to continue the youth movement where possible.
"You always want to improve," Jason Garrett said. "I do think when you think about starting three new guys and moving another guy from a different position, four guys are playing new spots on the offensive line. Two of them were rookies right at the start of the season and one was a second-year guy who was a college free agent coming out. Those are hard moves to make going up to New York.
"We felt like they were the right moves to make and felt like those guys responded well to the challenges, and I felt like they grew a lot through the season."
One area of improvement was in the running game, thanks in part to the midseason breakout of DeMarco Murray, and also the addition of fullback Tony Fiammetta. Still, the Cowboys line was able to move opponents some.
Yards per carry were slightly up, from 4.2 to 4.4 in 2011.