Gil LeBreton

The MVPs of Cowboys’ 9-1 start? Try the offensive line

In the spring of 2011, as part of a franchise-wide effort to keep quarterback Tony Romo upright and in one piece, the Dallas Cowboys drafted an offensive lineman in the first round of the NFL Draft.

In 2013, the Cowboys again used their No. 1 pick to select an offensive lineman.

By 2014, Owner Jones had coined the phrase “Romo-friendly,” and the Cowboys again drafted an offensive lineman.

And some of us scoffed, I must confess.

What, no Kardashians? No Johnny Manziel?

Has Jerry, we wondered, totally given up on the draft?

On the contrary, as it turned out. The fruits of Owner Jones’ draft day restraint were on full display Sunday.

Facing the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense, the Cowboys watched as their young and talented offensive line took over the game in the second half to defeat the Baltimore Ravens 27-17.

You want an MVP candidate from the team with the NFL’s best record, 9-1?

With all due respect to the compelling rookies, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, the MVP (plural) is the Cowboys’ offensive line — from left to right, Tyron Smith, Ron Leary, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and Doug Free.

Not very sexy, maybe, but these are the underpinnings of this team’s unexpectedly magical start to its season.

Or maybe it wasn’t so unexpected, as the owner tried to explain Sunday afternoon.

“You know, as an old offensive lineman, I’ve always thought the character of the team ... ,” said Jones, letting the memory of his days at Arkansas finish the thought.

“If you look back at the success that we had in the early ’90s, if you look at the makeup of that offensive line, we didn’t see it at first when we got here. But you had [Mark] Tuinei, you had Erik Williams, you had Nate Newton, you had [Mark] Stepnoski.

“If you want to go back and look at it, that offensive line — and the Triplets would be the first to tell you — was the difference. That reminds me of what we’re depending on here.”

There is a cruel irony, perhaps, that the rebuilding strategy that was designed to protect Romo ended up providing the supporting cast that dethroned him. His replacement, however, Prescott, had another of those jaw-dropping days, throwing for 301 yards and three touchdowns.

With Smith, Frederick, Martin, et al. opening glimpses of daylight for Elliott (97 yards) and keeping Prescott largely untouched, the Cowboys marched to scores three times in Sunday’s second half, covering 92, 88 and 72 yards.

They only had three possessions in the final two quarters, but the Cowboys used them to consume 36 plays and more than 20 minutes off the clock.

“It’s just kinda how we’re made,” said Martin, the right guard from Notre Dame. “We knew it was going to be tough sledding early, especially against a team like that. But we knew we could wear them down as the game went on.”

The turning point seemed to come after two penalties backed the Cowboys into a first down-and-30 situation in the second quarter. A run by Prescott and completions to Dez Bryant and Brice Butler got the first down, and the home team’s first touchdown followed.

“We have some great coaches and they made some good adjustments at halftime,” said Leary, who has filled in masterfully at left guard for the injured La-el Collins. “But I think in the second half as a group we were just a lot cleaner on our blocks. We had a lot better communication and executed the things we practiced all week.”

They are not the rock stars in the Cowboys’ locker room. The media crowd still gravitates toward Dak, Zeke, Dez and Jason Witten.

But you want an MVP candidate from the 9-1 Cowboys?

Check the recent drafts. The old Razorback lineman helped make them.

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