Nearly every opposing coach begins talking about the Cowboys by talking about their offensive line. Ravens coach John Harbaugh did just that Monday, saying the Cowboys are “built, in a lot of ways, around that offensive line.”
The Cowboys gained 422 yards Sunday. They rushed for 127 yards, including 46 on two touchdown runs by Ezekiel Elliott in the final 2 minutes. They converted 7-of-13 third downs.
The Cowboys offensive linemen, though, left Pittsburgh unsatisfied.
“I think there were a lot of things that need to be cleaned up,” center Travis Frederick said. “Just feeling it afterwards, it is something we’re really going to have to watch film, because I think there are a lot of areas that we can improve on, but Zeke ran really hard. It’s really a tribute to him and Alfred [Morris], and the way they were able to run and the guys on the outside making those blocks. That’s where those big runs come from.”
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Still, the offensive linemen didn’t rate Sunday’s game among their best.
Dak Prescott took two sacks, including one that led to a fumble and an early deficit. The offensive line had five of the team’s 10 penalties for 40 of the 98 penalty yards.
“We hold ourselves as a group to real high standards,” left guard Ron Leary said. “Yeah, we had good rush, good passing, but every guy I think had a penalty. That’s something that is unacceptable in our room.”
Actually, Frederick was the only linemen without a penalty.
Leary had a false start and a hold. Right tackle Doug Free had a hold. Right guard Zack Martin had a hold. Left tackle Tyron Smith had a false start.
This season, the Cowboys’ current starting five linemen have had 13 penalties with seven holds, one facemask and five false starts.
The Cowboys, though, were able to overcome their penalties Sunday: They scored a touchdown on the drive when Smith had a false start and Martin a hold to put Dallas in a first-and-25 hole; they got a field goal on the drive Free had his hold; they scored a touchdown despite Leary’s hold.
“Obviously, you don’t want them,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “The presnap penalties we had on both sides of the ball. A couple of false starts. A couple of offsides penalties, they were bad. The false starts are more challenging when you’re on the road, and you’re using the silent count and the different things that are going on. There were three holding penalties on the offensive line. Those are big penalties in the game. You get behind the chains. I do think we did a good job [overcoming them]. I think on two of those drives we scored touchdowns. We overcame the first-and-25, the 83-yard screen pass touchdown was after one of those holding penalties, and then the 50-yard touchdown to Dez [Bryant] was after one of the holding penalties. So we did a good job putting the last play away, focusing on this play and what this situation is.
“The biggest thing we have to do is not evaluate the officiating. We’ve just got to get it right going forward. I think for the most part this year we’ve done a good job keeping the penalties down. We’ve got to make sure we do a better job of that going forward.”
While Prescott and Elliott not only rank among the offensive rookie of the year candidates but among the offensive player of the year and MVP candidates as well, many call the Cowboys offensive line the real MVPs of the 9-1 start. And for good reason. Dallas ranks first in rushing, third in total offense and only two teams (Oakland and Washington) have allowed fewer than the Cowboys’ 13 sacks allowed.