Friday 19 January 2018 / 01:00 PM


The Cowboy’s O-Line Runs the Team

The debate has raged all season over whether Dak Prescott, the upstart rookie who has filled in, or the veteran Tony Romo should be the starting quarterback for the Cowboys, following the latter’s clean bill of health.

And early in the season, that was a pretty easy decision, as the consensus was that Romo would remain the starter going forward. But then the wins started to rack up, and before long, the Cowboys sat atop the NFC at 8-1.

And along the way, as Prescott and rookie running back Ezekiel Elliot dazzled, the consensus changed, with the overwhelming majority of fans thinking that the team should ride the hot hand. That culminated this week in Tony Romo giving an impassioned speech to reporters that he would step out of Dak’s way, instead taking over as the backup.

And as great as that debate has been, it’s inconsequential to the success of the Cowboys. See, Ezekiel Elliot has recently dominated the MVP conversation – the rookie back has led the league in rushing, carrying the Cowboys in recent games behind deep downfield runs and some explosive playmaking out of the backfield.

But he’s not the MVP in this early season: it’s the guys blocking for him. No, I’m not one of those guys that harps about how a Peyton Manning would be nothing without Jeff Saturday blocking for him, but there needs to be a point made about how good Dallas’ offensive line has been.

For instance, Ezekiel Elliot ran for three touchdowns against Pittsburgh last week. He was touched by a defensive player exactly zero times. Not one player touched Elliot on any of his runs to the end zone, a feat that is crazy, but hardly rare anymore for Dallas. Elliot is in the top 10 in the NFL in yards before contact, and the holes he’s had to run through are massive – a total testament to the line in front of him.

But it’s not just Elliot benefiting from the big guys up front. Prescott has worked his way into his own under center largely due the O-line, who have protected him at an amazing rate.

As a versatile, run-threat QB, a guy like Prescott should have a higher contact rate on his dropbacks. Instead, Prescott is getting 2.74 INSIDE the pocket to throw, which is second in the NFL. He averages a release on his passes at just under three seconds, which is the third-longest in the NFL. And while that could potentially be a bad thing, with most QBs that hold the ball that long having high sack rates, Prescott is only being sacked on 4.3% of his dropbacks, which is far below the league average of 5.66%.

No one can dispute the talent of Elliot, who’s lit the league up and made some people miss en route to his dazzling start. He’s certainly a top talent NFL running back, but his offensive line has been even better. In the last three years, they turned DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden and now Elliot into beast NFL running backs. And we saw what happened to Murray when he got out from behind them in Philly.

Prescott and Elliot have led a youth revolution in Dallas, and they are incredibly gifted and young talents. But the big fellas up front have made the season for the Cowboys – they are unmistakably the prime reason for their massive turnaround. They are the best unit in football and have the Cowboys as a serious threat to win the NFC.

Quarterback controversy or no controversy.

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About the author

Austin Albertson

Austin is CBS' senior NFL and NBA analyst, bringing you commentary on everything between the lines and inside the hashes, from the film room to the scoreboard.

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