Cowboys Offensive Line Didn't Take A Step Back In 2015, Far From It

We take a look at the narrative that the Dallas offensive line suffered with the loss of Bill Callahan to the Redskins, and that he has turned their line around.

When the Cowboys face off against the Washington Redskins later today in the 2015 season finale at AT&T Stadium, the conversation will at some point move to discussing Bill Callahan the Washington offensive line coach. Dallas' lost season tends to have fans and media searching for the boogeyman; the one reason that things didn't go according to plan. The departure of Bill Callahan is often cited as the reason Dallas' offense is not what it was last year. This idea is silly, at best. Dallas' offensive line hasn't regressed from 2014. The offensive output has, but a closer look at the fairly obvious details says the line play isn't anything to be concerned about, despite your Eagles fan friends constantly saying to you, "I thought anyone could rush for 2,000 yards behind your line!?"

Yes, volume stats are important. However, they aren't really a good measure of the quality of play, because there are so many factors that go into volume stats. Game situations dictate the total rushing yards accrued. The reason Dallas' per game rushing total going from 147 yards per game to 119 has everything to do with the fact that Dallas is 4-11; not the reverse.  Their total attempts has dropped from 508 in 2014 to 392 (with one game pending) in 2015.

Dallas is running at the exact same clip, 4.6 yards per carry, that they did in 2014. 4.6 ypc ranks Dallas' O-Line tied for fourth in the entire league. Fourth. 

It should be fairly obvious that losing Tony Romo and Dez Bryant for an entire season (Bryant played half the games, but clearly never recovered from his Week 1 broken foot) will adversely affect the running game. With a pupu platter of quarterbacks and no scary receiver threats, defenses will rightfully  focus in on stopping the run game. To have the same yards-per-carry average despite the rest of the offense falling apart and having subpar running backs could be looked at as the offensive line having a better performance in 2015 than in 2014. In addition, watch Tony Romo's mastery at the line of scrimmage prior to the play. He is almost at the Peyton Manning-level of directing his offensive linemen and backs as to what is coming from the defense. Losing Romo for essentially 13 games probably had a bigger impact on the line's cohesion than many would give credit for.

Darren McFadden is a cast-off. He's old. He's a sub-par back in 2015. This offensive line has him 3 yards shy of a 1,000 yard season in only 9 starts to this point. This despite the fact that McFadden is a horrible fit for what the offensive line does best, run a zone-blocking scheme. Many observers have been against the inclusion of McFadden in the Cowboys RBBC plans because of his ill-fit for the scheme. He doesn't have the lateral agility or the patience one needs to have to excel in this. Once the Cowboys coaching staff finally realized this, they changed the makeup of the play-calling. Dallas now runs a heavy dose of Power Man for McFadden and he's excelling.

Teams don't have offensive lines that can do both of these things at a high level. You either have smaller, athletic linemen that can run on rails, or you have big mauler types that can blow defenders off the line. Dallas has both, in the same 5-man starting unit. This isn't normal. This is elite.

Fans should remember, Dallas' offensive line didn't work a single game together in the preseason. There were injuries up and down the line and at least three of them didn't enter the season healthy. Doug Free's foot, Zack Martin's stinger and Ron Leary's myriad of injuries set them back early. Then, they replaced Leary with rookie La'el Collins. Collins has had his share of rookie mistakes yet still hasn't relinquished a sack this entire season. Martin's only given up one (after also pitching a shutout his rookie season). 

There's no doubt that the talent in the backfield has taken a step back from 2014. Demarco Murray was a perfect fit for what the offensive line was built for, but he is gone. Darren McFadden spent the entire offseason on the injury shelf, thus the coaching staff didn't get a full evaluation of his ability to run ZBS. We can assume they knew, based on Oakland tape, that he was a bad fit for that. Remember, when they were initially trying to bench Joseph Randle, McFadden wasn't the choice, it was Christine Michael. When that didn't work out, the brass decided to alter the way they run block.

What about pass protection? Here's where Dallas' OL ranked prior to last week's game against Buffalo.

Kellen Moore wasn't sacked in the Buffalo game, either. In fact, Dallas' total sacks allowed with one game to go is sitting at 29, one short of last year's total. Barring an epic meltdown, it should remain extremely close. This isn't even taking into account the snap cadence difference of four different starting quarterbacks.

Yes, there have been more short-yardage struggles than last year. Dallas was elite in third and one situations in 2014, converting 16 of 22 opportunities at a 72.7% clip. This year, not so good, 7 out of 14. However, when one looks at all of the short yardage attempts together, 3rd and 1, 3rd and 2, 3rd and 3, 4th and 1... the difference isn't nearly as stark. In 2014, Dallas was 22 out of 33, 66.6%. In 2015, the Cowboys are 15 of 24, 62.5%, including a perfect 3 for 3 in 4th and 1 attempts. 

Meanwhile, in Washington, Callahan's effect has caused their yards per carry average to drop over a half a yard an attempt, from 4.2 to 3.6. Their sacks have plummeted from 58 allowed in 2014 to just 26 so far this year. One has to account for them replacing Robert Griffin, who was sacked an appalling 33 times last season in only seven starts. Kirk Cousins Sack % in 2014 was just 3.8%. With Callahan this year? It's actually up to 4.7%, yet another example of how volume stats can be misleading. 

I'm sure that Washington feels Callahan is a godsend and has transformed their line, but the results don't say it's because of him. The results say it's because they stopped trotting out RGIII as their quarterback. His running ability boosted their yards per carry, and their frequency to be sacked. Meanwhile, Dallas losing Callahan hasn't affected them in the least bit.


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Kellen Moore wasn't sacked in the Buffalo game, either. In fact, Dallas' total sacks allowed with one game to go is sitting at 29, one short of last year's total. Barring an epic meltdown, it should remain extremely close. This isn't even taking into account the snap cadence difference of four different starting quarterbacks.

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Yes, there have been more short-yardage struggles than last year. Dallas was elite in third and one situations in 2014, converting 16 of 22 opportunities at a 72.7% clip. This year, not so good, 7 out of 14. However, when one looks at all of the short yardage attempts together, 3rd and 1, 3rd and 2, 3rd and 3, 4th and 1... the difference isn't nearly as stark. In 2014, Dallas was 22 out of 33, 66.6%. In 2015, the Cowboys are 15 of 24, 62.5%, including a perfect 3 for 3 in 4th and 1 attempts. 

\n

Meanwhile, in Washington, Callahan's effect has caused their yards per carry average to drop over a half a yard an attempt, from 4.2 to 3.6. Their sacks have plummeted from 58 allowed in 2014 to just 26 so far this year. One has to account for them replacing Robert Griffin, who was sacked an appalling 33 times last season in only seven starts. Kirk Cousins Sack % in 2014 was just 3.8%. With Callahan this year? It's actually up to 4.7%, yet another example of how volume stats can be misleading. 

\n

I'm sure that Washington feels Callahan is a godsend and has transformed their line, but the results don't say it's because of him. The results say it's because they stopped trotting out RGIII as their quarterback. His running ability boosted their yards per carry, and their frequency to be sacked. Meanwhile, Dallas losing Callahan hasn't affected them in the least bit.

","mobileBody":"

When the Cowboys face off against the Washington Redskins later today in the 2015 season finale at AT&T Stadium, the conversation will at some point move to discussing Bill Callahan the Washington offensive line coach. Dallas' lost season tends to have fans and media searching for the boogeyman; the one reason that things didn't go according to plan. The departure of Bill Callahan is often cited as the reason Dallas' offense is not what it was last year. This idea is silly, at best. Dallas' offensive line hasn't regressed from 2014. The offensive output has, but a closer look at the fairly obvious details says the line play isn't anything to be concerned about, despite your Eagles fan friends constantly saying to you, \"I thought anyone could rush for 2,000 yards behind your line!?\"

Yes, volume stats are important. However, they aren't really a good measure of the quality of play, because there are so many factors that go into volume stats. Game situations dictate the total rushing yards accrued. The reason Dallas' per game rushing total going from 147 yards per game to 119 has everything to do with the fact that Dallas is 4-11; not the reverse. Their total attempts has dropped from 508 in 2014 to 392 (with one game pending) in 2015.

Dallas is running at the exact same clip, 4.6 yards per carry, that they did in 2014. 4.6 ypc ranks Dallas' O-Line tied for fourth in the entire league. Fourth.

It should be fairly obvious that losing Tony Romo and Dez Bryant for an entire season (Bryant played half the games, but clearly never recovered from his Week 1 broken foot) will adversely affect the running game. With a pupu platter of quarterbacks and no scary receiver threats, defenses will rightfully focus in on stopping the run game. To have the same yards-per-carry average despite the rest of the offense falling apart and having subpar running backs could be looked at as the offensive line having a better performance in 2015 than in 2014. In addition, watch Tony Romo's mastery at the line of scrimmage prior to the play. He is almost at the Peyton Manning-level of directing his offensive linemen and backs as to what is coming from the defense. Losing Romo for essentially 13 games probably had a bigger impact on the line's cohesion than many would give credit for.

Darren McFadden is a cast-off. He's old. He's a sub-par back in 2015. This offensive line has him 3 yards shy of a 1,000 yard season in only 9 starts to this point. This despite the fact that McFadden is a horrible fit for what the offensive line does best, run a zone-blocking scheme. Many observers have been against the inclusion of McFadden in the Cowboys RBBC plans because of his ill-fit for the scheme. He doesn't have the lateral agility or the patience one needs to have to excel in this. Once the Cowboys coaching staff finally realized this, they changed the makeup of the play-calling. Dallas now runs a heavy dose of Power Man for McFadden and he's excelling.

Teams don't have offensive lines that can do both of these things at a high level. You either have smaller, athletic linemen that can run on rails, or you have big mauler types that can blow defenders off the line. Dallas has both, in the same 5-man starting unit. This isn't normal. This is elite.

Fans should remember, Dallas' offensive line didn't work a single game together in the preseason. There were injuries up and down the line and at least three of them didn't enter the season healthy. Doug Free's foot, Zack Martin's stinger and Ron Leary's myriad of injuries set them back early. Then, they replaced Leary with rookie La'el Collins. Collins has had his share of rookie mistakes yet still hasn't relinquished a sack this entire season. Martin's only given up one (after also pitching a shutout his rookie season).

There's no doubt that the talent in the backfield has taken a step back from 2014. Demarco Murray was a perfect fit for what the offensive line was built for, but he is gone. Darren McFadden spent the entire offseason on the injury shelf, thus the coaching staff didn't get a full evaluation of his ability to run ZBS. We can assume they knew, based on Oakland tape, that he was a bad fit for that. Remember, when they were initially trying to bench Joseph Randle, McFadden wasn't the choice, it was Christine Michael. When that didn't work out, the brass decided to alter the way they run block.

What about pass protection? Here's where Dallas' OL ranked prior to last week's game against Buffalo.

O-Lines w/ fewest pressures allowed this year: 1. Cowboys - 100 2. Raiders - 115 3. Bengals - 119 4(tie). Bills - 126 4(tie). Panthers - 126

— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) December 21, 2015

Kellen Moore wasn't sacked in the Buffalo game, either. In fact, Dallas' total sacks allowed with one game to go is sitting at 29, one short of last year's total. Barring an epic meltdown, it should remain extremely close. This isn't even taking into account the snap cadence difference of four different starting quarterbacks.

Yes, there have been more short-yardage struggles than last year. Dallas was elite in third and one situations in 2014, converting 16 of 22 opportunities at a 72.7% clip. This year, not so good, 7 out of 14. However, when one looks at all of the short yardage attempts together, 3rd and 1, 3rd and 2, 3rd and 3, 4th and 1... the difference isn't nearly as stark. In 2014, Dallas was 22 out of 33, 66.6%. In 2015, the Cowboys are 15 of 24, 62.5%, including a perfect 3 for 3 in 4th and 1 attempts.

Meanwhile, in Washington, Callahan's effect has caused their yards per carry average to drop over a half a yard an attempt, from 4.2 to 3.6. Their sacks have plummeted from 58 allowed in 2014 to just 26 so far this year. One has to account for them replacing Robert Griffin, who was sacked an appalling 33 times last season in only seven starts. Kirk Cousins Sack % in 2014 was just 3.8%. With Callahan this year? It's actually up to 4.7%, yet another example of how volume stats can be misleading.

I'm sure that Washington feels Callahan is a godsend and has transformed their line, but the results don't say it's because of him. The results say it's because they stopped trotting out RGIII as their quarterback. His running ability boosted their yards per carry, and their frequency to be sacked. Meanwhile, Dallas losing Callahan hasn't affected them in the least bit.

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