None of these gentlemen is necessarily a household name – even in households that watch a considerable amount of football. But these five gentlemen – who collectively man the offensive line for the Dallas Cowboys – are at the heart of what is suddenly a very scary team.
Tyron Smith was a first round draft choice out of USC in 2011 (the ninth player chosen). He has gone to three Pro Bowls and was named a First Team All-Pro following the 2014 season.
Ronald Leary signed as an undrafted free agent out of Memphis.
Travis Frederick was also a first-rounder out of Wisconsin in 2013 (thirty-first player selected). He has since gone to two Pro Bowls.
Zack Martin was the Cowboys’ first-round pick the next year (sixteenth overall) out of Notre Dame. He joined Smith as a First Team All-Pro in 2014 and has also been to two Pro Bowls.
Doug Free is playing in his tenth season after being drafted in the fourth round in 2007 out of Northern Illinois.
They are five very large and very athletic men, and what they did last Sunday afternoon to an opposing collection of large, athletic men from Cincinnati had to be seen to be believed.
Since their last losing season in 2010, the Cincinnati Bengals have been playoff regulars and have won at least ten games in each of the last four seasons. Last season they ranked eleventh in overall defense and seventh against the run. They were expected to be a competitive match for the Dallas offense and came into the game into the game fairly confident that they could at least limit the Cowboy running attack.
For the first 33 minutes and 22 seconds of the contest, the Dallas offensive line manhandled the highly regarded front seven of the Bengals. The first time they had the ball, the Cowboys marched 64 yards in 7 plays for a touchdown. They never faced a third-down in the drive. Then, after a Cincinnati punt pushed them back to their own 11, they mounted an 11-play, 89-yard touchdown drive. After another Cincinnati punt, Dallas made it three-for-three as they marched 80 yards in 8 plays for the touchdown that pushed the halftime lead to 21-0.
They trotted into the locker room at halftime having already piled up 117 rushing yards on just 17 carries (6.9 yards per).
Then, on their first play of the second half, that offensive line crumpled the Bengal front like so much pie crust as rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott sprinted 60 yards untouched up the middle for the touchdown that pushed the score to 28-0.
There is a revival in Dallas these days. The Dallas Cowboys are finding new names for an old formula – an electric running back running behind a dominant offensive line. The running back is this year’s first-round draft pick, Elliott – the former Ohio State back was the fourth overall player taken.
But the story of the revival doesn’t end there. With a pre-season injury sidelining starting quarterback Tony Romo, the Cowboys have given the ball to another rookie. Former Mississippi State signal caller Dak Prescott has stepped in to the breach and taken the NFL by storm. Lightly regarded coming out of college, Prescott is completing 69.0% of his passes, averaging 7.99 yards per attempt and 11.6 yards per completion. He has done this with a poise and polish beyond his years as he routinely finds second and third receivers and delivers passes to them with pinpoint precision.
Prescott has reached 155 passes in his career now, and has yet to suffer his first interception. His passer rating of 101.5 perfectly complements Elliott’s league leading 546 rushing yards and 109.2 yards per game.
As good as the numbers have been, though, the most impressive thing about the revival in Dallas is the energy. Last Sunday the Cowboys fell on the Bengals as though they couldn’t wait to get their pads into them. They playoff veteran Bengals had the game taken away from them before they could blink. It was, to say the least, an impressive showing.
Should the NFL be very, very afraid? Maybe, but there is a lot of season left.
As good as they’ve been there is the question of how they will look when (if) they run into a defense that can bottle up the running attack and put pressure on Prescott (something he hasn’t had to deal with too much).
But to do that, someone will have to contend with that offensive line. As good as the rookies have been, the long-term story of the Dallas season will begin and end as this post has. With Tyron Smith. Ronald Leary. Travis Frederick. Zack Martin. And Doug Free.