There’s no way around the fact that the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line was singled out as a potential scapegoat during the bye week.
Monday’s firing of offensive line coach Paul Alexander came as a surprise to the linemen, who were texting each other hours before the move was made to replace Alexander with assistant line coach Marc Colombo. Former OL coach Hudson Houck was also added as a consultant.
Guard Zack Martin and right tackle La’el Collins said they felt responsible for the change. Left tackle Tyron Smith had a different take.
“No, not at all,” said Smith, who hasn’t been as dominating as in previous seasons. “When something like that happens it’s not really anybody’s fault, nobody is in control of something like that so we don’t really pay too much attention to it and control what we can control.”
But the offensive line play is at least a part of the offense’s struggle to perform at a consistently high level, especially on the road, in 2018. Of course, the absence to All-Pro center Travis Frederick hasn’t helped. But replacement Joe Looney hasn’t played poorly.
So why such a big drop-off for a unit that has been the most stable on the roster?
Alexander brought with him a new technique that he tried to incorporate with his linemen. Last week, Alexander said the players acclimated at their own speeds, and said that some “didn’t want to mess with it.”
Martin and Collins dismissed the new technique being the issue, but conceded they’d likely revert to some previously used formulas.
“At the end of the day our room wasn’t performing up to the standard that we set the last few years,” Martin said. “I want to reiterate, this was not a one-man problem. We have to play better. Obviously, you can’t just switch everything, especially for some of the younger guys.
“But I think we will kind of implement some of the stuff we’ve done in the past and use some stuff we’ve done recently, too. Any time you do a new technique it’s going to be a tough transition especially with what we’ve done over the past few years. But I don’t want to put the blame on that. It’s not one guy’s one new technique. We weren’t playing up to the standard that we had.”
Collins defended Alexander.
“I felt like Paul came in and did some things that helped me get better as a player,” he said. “For the most part, we haven’t been at that level and standard we need to be as a unit.”
Smith said he’s not happy with his play. The addition of Houck, who was the Cowboys’ offensive line coach in 2011 when he urged them to draft Smith with the ninth overall pick, would seem to be another nod in Smith’s direction.
“It’s always great seeing an old face,” Smith said. “Hud knows me more than anybody. He helped out a lot my first year. He’ll be a big help. [Colombo] knows, as a player, what we need and what we need to get fixed and we trust him and it’s going to be a good process. It’s a big opportunity for Colombo. We’ll move forward and get this thing right.”
There’s a danger with trying to completely switch back in the middle of the season with time so tight between games, Martin said.
Colombo, who played with the Cowboys from 2005-10 and retired in 2012, is in his first year of coaching. Although the Cowboys are fourth in the league in rushing, quarterback Dak Prescott has been sacked 23 times, ninth most in the league, and the offense is averaging only 20 points a game, 26th in the NFL.
“If you look at the tape, some of our problems on offense have definitely been up front so it’s something we have to address,” Martin said. “I know Coach Colombo is extremely excited to start working with us full-go. We’re very excited to have Colombo in our room because we’re very used to what he brings.”
These bye week moves, including the trade for receiver Amari Cooper, make it clear to the Cowboys’ locker room that the front office expects to win now.
“I think everyone in this locker room still expects that,” Martin said. “We have a ton of confidence in the guys we have in here. We know we have the talent to get there, we just have to put it all together and start putting some wins together.”