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Dallas Cowboys: Fixing the Cowboys’ offense: Protection issues hurt Cowboys, but Dak Prescott contributed to the problem 

Editor’s note: This is the fifth and final post in a five-part series looking at ways to fix the Cowboys’ offense heading into the 2019 season. Find the entire series at the conclusion of this post.

Teams that don’t make the Super Bowl measure themselves against teams that do. The idea is to find any common denominators that those teams possess, something they do well, that you don’t. This applies across the board.

What did the Cowboys notice when New England and the LA Rams played in Super Bowl LIII? One area jumps out.

Pass protection. The offensive lines for the Patriots and Rams allowed a total of 54 sacks in the regular season.

The Cowboys allowed 56.

Now, let’s take this one step further. New England and LA allowed fewer sacks in 1,142 regular-season pass attempts than Dallas did in 527.

OK, now let’s go two steps further. The Cowboys gave up the second most sacks in the league despite ranking in the bottom third in pass attempts.

The problem

All of this is in relation to the 2018 season. Where does it rank in franchise history?

You have to go back 32 years to find a season in which the Cowboys gave up more sacks. Dallas allowed 60 in ’86. Their total last season was the third highest in club history.

The numbers got a little better in the final nine games of the regular season when Marc Colombo replaced Paul Alexander as the team’s offensive line coach and Hudson Houck was added as a consultant. Still, this group gave five or more sacks in a game four times, led by season-high seven sacks in the win over New Orleans in late November.

The loss of Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick before the season began to Guillain-Barre syndrome was a serious blow. His absence created a domino effect the line struggled to overcome.

Joe Looney, a veteran journeyman who has spent most of his career at guard, had to slide over to center. Rookie Connor Williams was next to him at left guard.

Putting an undersized rookie between Frederick and Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith made sense. Putting him next to Looney didn’t. Williams struggled early in the season. Looney quickly got better, but he was no Frederick. Pressure up the middle disrupted the Cowboys offense.

The line did improve when Williams was hurt and veteran Xavier Su’a-Filo took over as the starter. Williams was better late in the season when Su’a-Filo was slowed by injury. But as good as this group was in run blocking, it was lacking in pass protection.

The solution

There will be no mixed messages from the coaching staff this season. There will be no fundamental change in technique as there was last year when Alexander took over. The former Cincinnati Bengals coach taught a high hand, low inside hand technique designed to turn his lineman into stabber’s or strikers more than punchers.

These guys are punchers. They’ll continue to punch under Colombo. That should lessen the inconsistency that dogged this group early last season.

Frederick’s return will be the biggest plus. His ability to recognize where the pressure will come defensively on a given play and relay that information to his teammates was sorely missed. An offseason in the weight room should make a big difference with Williams.

Improvement is not just on the line. Quarterback Dak Prescott holds onto the long too long at times trying to make a play. He needs to be more willing to cut the ball loose.

There were times when Prescott held onto the ball because he had no place to throw. The receivers can help in being more precise in their routes. The coaching staff can help by designing some different routes for Prescott to look for when he’s under extreme pressure.

But the primary responsibility for improvement rests with the offensive line. For this group to truly be regarded among the league’s best, a dramatic improvement is required in how it protects Prescott.

Twitter: @DavidMooreDMN

Losing ground

How the 56 sacks the Cowboys allowed rank from several different perspectives.

2018 RANK IN LEAGUE
Team Sacks Yds lost

Houston

62

384

Dallas

56

347

Green Bay

53

391

Jacksonville

53

322

FRANCHISE HISTORY
Season Sacks

1964

68

1986

60

2018

56

LAST THREE SEASONS
Season Sacks

2016

28

2017

32

2018

56

Fixing the Cowboys’ offense

Five aspects of the Cowboys offense that must be addressed this offseason:

Part I: To advance past divisional round, Dallas must shed its disdain for creativity

Part II: How to prevent Dallas’ passing attack from short-circuiting again in 2019

Part III: Dallas’ red-zone woes could improve with these changes from within its own roster

Part IV: It’s time to unleash Dak Prescott and let him run more

Part V: Protection issues hurt Cowboys, but Dak Prescott contributed to the problem

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