Dallas Cowboys offensive line coach Frank Pollack calls his unit “master technicians,” a group always striving to improve.
They’re focused on perfecting the monotonous and mundane fundamentals, a topic that puts even the diehard football fans to sleep. But that work goes a long way on Sundays.
The Cowboys are leading the league in rushing yards per game (161.2) and first downs (59); in time of possession (33:09) and 5-minute drives (16); has allowed the second-fewest sacks (nine); and has the best scoring efficiency in the NFL (49.2 percent).
“They’re playing good,” Pollack said. “They’re a pro’s pro and that’s the best compliment I can give to anyone in this league. They work hard every week and trying to perfect their craft, master technicians. They’re a lot of fun to coach.”
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The offensive line of right guard Doug Free, right tackle Zack Martin, center Travis Fredrick, left guard Ronald Leary and left tackle Tyron Smith will face its stiffest challenge to date on Sunday night. Philadelphia has the fifth-best defense in the league, and its known for its stout front seven.
Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox is among the best in the league and has four sacks this season. Defensive end Brandon Graham also has four sacks.
Against the run, the Eagles have held four of their six opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards. But they were gashed for 230 rushing yards by the Washington Redskins two weeks ago.
“It’s going to be a great challenge for us,” Frederick said. “It’s a really, really good front seven. You can call it front eight because they often play an eight-man box. So it’s going to be tough for us, but it’s something that we as a group will do the best we can.”
The Cowboys have been in this position before. There were similar questions when they faced Cincinnati earlier this month.
The Cowboys responded by rushing for 180 yards in that game, and essentially made All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins a non-factor. They hope to do the same with Cox and the rest of the Eagles’ line.
“You can never take it for granted,” Leary said. “We don’t buy into that ‘best offensive line’ too much. We just try to go out and prove ourselves.
“We pride ourselves in the front five and Philly prides themselves in the front seven. We’ve got a lot of respect for them and it’s going to be a good game.”
The Cowboys will rely on the offensive line once again to set the tone. They’re a lot of the reason behind the successes of rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.
Prescott is completing 68 percent of his passes, and Elliott is averaging 5.1 yards a carry. Sunday also marks the return of wide receiver Dez Bryant, who has averaged 86 receiving yards and almost a touchdown in nine career games against the Eagles throughout his career.
The difference in the game, though, might be how well the offensive line fares in the red zone. Philadelphia boasts the best red-zone defense in the league, allowing opponents to score only 65 percent of the time inside the 20.
The Cowboys, meanwhile, have the best red-zone offense in the league, converting on 96 percent of their trips inside the 20.
“They’re sound,” coach Jason Garrett said of the Eagles’ red-zone D. “They play a mix of coverages. They’re not overly complicated, but they mix it. They’ve been playing some shell coverage and some single-high coverage. They have a really good defensive line that puts pressure on the quarterback, so the quarterback doesn’t have a lot of time to get rid of the ball to let things develop. And they’ve done a good job defending the run as well.
“So, if you put all those things together, they’re going to play some good defense.”
Eagles at Cowboys
7:30 p.m. Sunday, KXAS/5