Cowboys concerned with offensive line

The Vikings had six sacks against the Cowboys in the playoffs, but Dallas made some changes in an attempt to improve its offensive line and owner Jerry Jones seems to have confidence in them. So far, the results have been mixed.

The Cowboys head into Sunday's game against the Vikings with serious questions about the offensive line.

Dallas gave up six sacks in a playoff loss to Minnesota and its vaunted defensive front last season.

The Cowboys made improving the line a priority in the offseason. They got rid of left tackle Flozell Adams and replaced him with Doug Free. The rest of the line came back intact.

Despite the minimal turnover, owner Jerry Jones feels better about the line today than he did in January's playoff game.

He said tackle Marc Colombo, who was beaten for three sacks by Ray Edwards last year, is healthy again. Last year Colombo was starting for the second time after missing seven games with a broken leg and a sprained ankle. Adams was sidelined in the second half due to injury.

"When I look at the second half in Minnesota compared to what we're taking to Minnesota right now, I like the comparison," Jones said. "We've got Colombo back with a lot more reps since his injury, and frankly, in a lot better shape.

"We're in better shape at left tackle as we go up to Minnesota. Plus we've got a learning curve we've got there, too. We saw that happen there at Minnesota. We've got some things we put in to mitigate in case we do get a jail break coming at us. So I like what we're doing on the offensive line as we go to Minnesota that we weren't doing last year."

Expect the Cowboys to have the running backs and tight end Jason Witten stay in to help slow the rush with max protection.

Questions remain about the personnel, especially considering the Cowboys' effort against the Titans last week. Quarterback Tony Romo was sacked six times.

Right guard Leonard Davis was benched in the second quarter for his poor play. The three-time Pro Bowler from Texas didn't sleep much Sunday night after what he called the worst game of his career.

Offensive line coach Hudson Houck said Davis played well when he returned to the game in the second half and believes he may be better because of the experience.

"We know what kind of guy he is, and when he came back in, he played very well, and he's very serious right now," Houck said. "I think every once in a while, maybe all of us need to be knocked down a little bit. Then all of a sudden, you get a little more focused."

Considering Davis' $49.6 million contract is the richest ever for a Cowboys offensive lineman, Jones was disappointed Sunday. But he said he's seen too many good things from Davis not to believe he will be better.

"Realistically, you hate to see him have that struggle," Jones said. "He had a really tough assignment for him, a very quick, quick defensive lineman in front of him. He got frustrated. I'm going to give him a little love here, a little pat on the back for getting it together and coming back in the second half and playing pretty well. I think that's hard to do."

Colombo had his problems against the Titans, too. The Cowboys just didn't have anyone behind him they trusted enough to replace him, which is another indictment of their front-office decision-making in the offseason.

Alex Barron was supposed to compete with Free for the starting job and serve as the third tackle. He replaced an injured Colombo in the opener and committed three holding penalties, including one that wiped away the game-winning touchdown on the final play.

Barron has not played since.

So it goes without saying that Colombo will be challenged to handle Edwards again.

And this doesn't even consider Free going against Jared Allen, who is the Vikings' best pass rusher. While Free has played well -- so much so that he is already considered the team's best offensive lineman -- dealing with Allen will be his toughest assignment because of the crowd noise at the Metrodome. Of Allen's 14.5 sacks last year, he recorded 9.5 of them at home.

BY THE NUMBERS: 107 – That's the number of catches WR Miles Austin has through 16 full games, dating back to his first start in the fifth game last season. He has 1,713 yards and 12 TD catches during that time.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think every game after this is elimination (as well). If you lose this game, the next game is even worse. How do you feel if you're coming out of this game 1-4? 2-3 sounds better and that's what you want. You want to get those numbers on the front end. We've got to start now. The time is now." -- LB DeMarcus Ware on the importance of Sunday's game against the Vikings

SERIES HISTORY: 21st regular-season meeting. Series tied, 10-10.

NOTES

  • WR Dez Bryant could miss the Vikings game because of continued problems with a high ankle sprain he suffered in training camp. Bryant has played through the injury all season, but he re-tweaked it last week against the Titans. He has not practiced this week.

  • C Andre Gurode underwent an MRI after experiencing discomfort in his right knee. Results weren't immediately known. If he can't go against the Vikings, OG Kyle Kosier would get the first start of his career at center.

  • OT Marc Colombo was fined $5,000 by the NFL for a late hit in Sunday's game. He also received an excessive-celebration penalty for accidentally falling down in the end zone after a touchdown.

  • RB Marion Barber will remain the starter despite the Cowboys' plans for a continued increased role for Felix Jones, who rushed for 109 yards last week against the Titans. Look for Barber to open the game as the starter but for Jones to come in quickly as the featured back. Barber will be the third-down back and the closer.


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