Piecing Together the Cowboys’ Offensive Line
- Cleveland had the benefit of facing Cincinnati and Washington over the past two weeks, whose offensive lines are well below average in ranking 29th and 25th, respectively, through three games according to Pro Football Focus. The Cowboys rank 24th.
- Dallas definitely has had some continuity issues up front. Dak Prescott has been pressured 34 times this season, compared to Baker Mayfield, who has been pressured 15 times. The difference for Dallas, compared to Cincinnati and Washington, is that their offense can still overcome their offensive line play. Heading into Week 4, the Cowboys are averaging an astounding 490.7 yards of offense per game, which is 1st in the NFL.
- If this game is going to be a shootout, the key takeaway here is that Dallas’ line could be susceptible to that one big mistake, whether it’s giving up a sack, something that causes a turnover, a fourth down stop, etc. Here is a rundown of Dallas’ offensive line stituation:
- Right Guard: Zack Martin has been Dallas’ best offensive lineman. He is the team’s starting right guard.
- Left Tackle: Their other key veteran is left tackle Tyron Smith. He’s missed the past two games with a neck issue, but hopes to return this Sunday. Brandon Knight, an undrafted free agent in 2019, filled in for Martin the past two weeks fairly well.
- Right Tackle: There is some talk that Knight could try to switch over and start at right tackle now, to replace Terence Steele, an undrafted free agent who has been starting at right tackle thanks to injuries to starter La’el Collins and backup Cameron Erving.
- Left Guard: With all of that in mind, our Cowboys affiliate says that left guard Connor Williams is the team’s biggest liability.
- Center: This offseason, center Travis Frederick surprisingly retired. That has put Joe Looney back in as the starting center — he has plenty of experience, but isn’t as good as Frederick.
- The X-Factor in all of this is the fact that RB Ezekiel Elliott is one of the best blocking backs a quarterback could ask for. I see Dallas’ line as having much fewer holes than Cincinnati and Washington, but the constant shuffling hurts the continuity and consistency of a line. I would expect Elliott and the tight ends to provide plenty of blocking support when Prescott drops back to pass, putting extra pressure on Cleveland’s defensive backs to cover those short crossing routes and deeper routes attacking the safeties.
Testing Cleveland’s Defense
- Dallas’ defense has not been good this year, thanks to poor play from the secondary. Overall as a defense, Dallas is allowing 404.7 yards per game, which is 26th in the NFL. They also give up 32.3 points per game, which is the 4th highest amount in the NFL.
- It may surprise you that Cleveland’s defense is only giving up 347.7 yards per game, which ranks them 9th in the NFL. However, fans who have been watching the game know what the eye test says.
- Cleveland’s run defense is pretty solid in allowing 94 rushing yards per game only. But they rank in the bottom third of the league in 3rd down conversions allowed, 4th down conversions allowed, red zone defense, and goal-to-go defense. When teams need to move the chains, especially in those short yardage situations, they are converting with ease by exploiting obvious mismatches against the Browns’ linebackers and safeties in coverage.
- Dallas is going to kill Cleveland with crossing routes unless the team adjusts their strategy. The only shred of optimism we can have, and I am not counting on this at all, is if:
- Denzel Ward starts the whole game, allowing Kevin Johnson to be the full-time nickelback over Tavierre Thomas.
- Ronnie Harrison takes over the starting free safety role from Andrew Sendejo.
- Mack Wilson’s reps increase significantly and he thrives in coverage.
- Don’t bank on all of that coming to fruition. This game is going to be a shootout, and one that I think will be a bit too much to overcome.
- The way that Cleveland wins this game is if their offense can contend in a shootout. They were able to take that approach against Cincinnati two weeks ago, using sustained drives to pile on touchdown after touchdown. Against Washington last week, the Browns struggled to put together long, sustained drives against Washington’s pass rush, but capitalized on every short field they were given.
- Kareem Hunt being questionable is one big thing to watch. While Nick Chubb has more than proven himself, the luxury that Kevin Stefanski has had to keep both of his backs fresh has paid off in the late stages of a game, because they are still fresh against a tired defense. Can D’Ernest Johnson have a good impact too, with Cleveland’s solid offensive line play?
- Dallas’ pass defense has not been good, which is one of the reasons the Atlanta Falcons jumped out to a 20-0 lead against them in Week 2 (before Dallas’ miraculous fourth quarter rally). Over the past two games, Dallas’ defense has allowed 9 touchdown passes to 0 interceptions against Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson. The Seahawks also had a 30-15 lead on Dallas at one point.
- Odell Beckham Jr. is waiting for another breakout game. The past two weeks have been much better with respect to the chemistry between he and Baker Mayfield, but it’s still not fully there. Jarvis Landry is still trying to play through his hip surgery as he recovers from it, which means he can’t have the same level of quickness to get open. Will Austin Hooper get some more looks this week?
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “The game trends are there to give reason to belive that Cleveland can pull this game off, but I need to see the Browns execute against a team like Dallas before I can buy in more. I cannot overlook the fact that the Browns had the luxury the past two weeks of facing the Bengals and Football Team, two of the worst teams in the league. Dallas shows signs of similar problems (offensive line and defense), but Prescott mitigates much of that and keeps them in every game. If this game becomes a shootout more so through the air, that is an area in which Dallas has succeeded more often than Cleveland, so I will lean toward them for the home field edge.” Cowboys 31, Browns 28
Thomas Moore: “With all the talk about how this game will be a “shootout in Big D” it will be amusing if the final score is 10-6. All kidding aside, the Cowboys clearly present some problems on offense with three players in the top 20 in receiving yards and quarterback Dak Prescott leading the league in passing yards. Even so, Dallas is one lucky play away from being 0-3, so they may not be the juggernaut that the media is making them out to be. The Browns need to limit their mistakes, take advantage of any mistakes the Cowboys make, and keep pounding the Dallas defense on the ground. If/when it does become a shootout, the Browns do have the weapons to keep up, but will ultimately fall just a wee bit short.” Cowboys 42, Browns 38
rufio: “The Browns’ offense is rolling, but the defense struggles against Dak, Zeke, and the rest of the Cowboys’ offense. Baker puts on a show in front of a hometown-ish crowd, and the Browns outscore the Cowboys in an exciting game.” Browns 35, Cowboys 34
Barry Shuck: “I really do not think the back seven of the Browns’ defense can keep up with the Cowboys’ offense. They are number one in so many offensive categories. Karl Joseph has found a home, but Andrew Sendejo is a liability back there. Denzel Ward is a roller coaster while Greedy Williams’ backup, Terrance Mitchell, does great at times and then allows huge gaps. Dallas lives and dies with their passing attack and they have four very good receivers, so nobody is going to be doubled. If the Browns want any hint of winning, they will have to control the clock by running the ball against the Cowboys’ 23rd ranked run defense. If Mayfield is being asked to keep up with Dak, the game is over early.” Cowboys 41, Browns 31
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.