Change all the assistant coaches, play callers, and defensive schemes you want, but none of that addresses the biggest issue for the Cowboys. In fact, when you compare this team with the two that played in the Super Bowl this year, there’s one glaring deficiency.
As Barry Switzer called them, it’s those pachyderms on the offensive line. And, after what we saw this season, surely, it’s no longer the elephant in the Cowboys war room.
The Cowboys had the 31st ranked rushing offense in the NFL in 2012. They averaged just 3.6 yards per carry and an astonishing 79 yards rushing a game. To put that in perspective, in the 53-year history of the franchise, never have they ever had a season in which they averaged fewer yards rushing per game. Even the 1960 Cowboys (0-11-1) had a higher rushing average (87.4).
How did this happen?
The Cowboys, wisely, decided to rebuild their offensive line when Jason Garrett took over as head coach in 2011. They released aging veterans Andre Gurode (a former 2nd round draft pick), Leonard Davis (1st rounder), and Marc Colombo (1st rounder). In 2012, they let go veteran Kyle Kosier.
The Cowboys have replaced those four starters with one premium draft pick, 1st rounder Tyron Smith in 2011.
Otherwise, they’ve tried to survive with an undrafted young center (Phil Costa), and veteran free agent pickups Nate Livings (undrafted) and Mackenzy Bernadeau (7th rounder).
It takes time to replace what the Cowboys have lost in the offensive line. They simply haven’t had enough salary cap space or draft chips to cash in.
They could have used a 2nd round pick on an offensive lineman last year, but the price they paid for moving up to take cornerback Morris Claiborne was a 2nd round selection. If they had that pick, they could’ve taken offensive guard Kelechi Osemele, the Ravens starting left guard in the Super Bowl.
Now compare the Cowboys offensive line with the two Super Bowl teams.
Baltimore started two 1st round draft picks at tackle, Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher. The guards were 3rd rounder Marshall Yanda (2nd team All Pro) and 2nd rounder Osemele. 36 year old veteran Matt Birk lined up at center.
San Francisco started three 1st round selections in its offensive line, guard Mike Iupati (1st team All-Pro) and tackles Joe Staley (2nd team All-Pro) and Anthony Davis. Like the Ravens, they had a veteran center in Jonathan Goodwin. Undrafted Alex Boone emerged at right guard.
In 2007-09, the 49ers ranked 27th in the league in rushing offense. In 2010, San Francisco drafted Davis and Iupati in the 1st round. In 2011-12, they’ve ranked 6th in the league in rushing offense with a combined record of 27-9-1 and a Super Bowl appearance.
Every year, the goal for the Cowboys should be 2100 yards rushing. The last three times they had 3500 yards passing and 2100 yards rushing in a season: 1992, 1993, and 1995.
The Cowboys had 1265 yards rushing this season.
In a word, the off-season priority: pachyderms.
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