NFL Wire News

Cowboys O-line struggling this season


The Sports Xchange

IRVING, Tex. — The Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line was billed as the best in the league and potentially one of the best ever. It has not lived up to expectations in 2015.

They sent three offensive linemen to the Pro Bowl last season and had two named All-Pro in becoming arguably the league’s top line. They played a big part in DeMarco Murray leading the league in rushing and earning offensive player of the year honors.

Despite having all five players back, though, the Cowboys rank only 18th in rushing (106.2 per game), 15th in yards per rush attempt (4.1) and 19th in sacks allowed (11).

“I think guys are playing hard,” offensive line coach Frank Pollack said. “We’re always striving for perfection. It’s something you can’t ever reach, but we’re always striving to get there, and as the old saying goes: You strive for perfection, find excellence along the way.

“We’ll keep looking hard at what we’re doing and keeping finding that perfect game.”

The Cowboys’ offensive linemen, as a group, have 13 penalties, including five holding penalties, and have been responsible for 6.5 of the sacks allowed, according to STATS, Inc.

–The Cowboys have made a lot of moves to improve their team during the bye week. One area that also needs work is the return game. The Cowboys rank 25th in kickoff return average and 31st in punt return average.

“We haven’t played very good,” special teams coach Rich Bisaccia said. “I think we’ve only actually had maybe four kickoff returns, and we’ve played against good punters and had some funky field positions. I don’t really think we’re playing very good anywhere right now, to be honest with you.”

The Cowboys lost primary returner Dwayne Harris to the Giants in free agency when he signed a five-year, $17.5 million deal. They have yet to replace his production on punts or kickoffs.

The Cowboys have averaged 21.6 yards on their 10 kickoff returns and 3.5 yards on their eight punt returns.

“It’s not always the return guy,” Bisaccia said. “I’ve said that for years. In the past, we’ve had a good group of guys blocking in front and certainly a dynamic returner, and now we’re getting comfortable with the returns that we’ve used and getting a little bit better blocking up front.”

Lucky Whitehead has replaced the injured Lance Dunbar on kickoff returns and will alternate with Cole Beasley on punt returns.

Whitehead went into training camp as a candidate for the return jobs and likely stuck on the 53-player roster because of his ability to do both jobs. However, Whitehead had trouble handling the ball at times in the preseason and during practice, losing the kickoff return job to Dunbar and the punt return job to Cole Beasley.

The Cowboys used Whitehead as a returner for the first time against New England, the week after Dunbar was lost for the season, and he had one punt return for minus-2 yards and one kickoff return for 21 yards. Beasley also had one punt return, gaining 8 yards, against the Patriots.

–Left guard La’el Collins, an undrafted rookie, has been promoted to the starting unit for Sunday’s game against the New York Giants. He will replace Ron Leary at left guard. A groin injury has slowed Leary, who has a holding penalty and two sacks allowed this season, while Collins graded out well in the two games he played – one of them a start — in place of Leary.

“I’d say it’s probably a combination of both. You know? A combination of both,” offensive line coach Frank Pollack said. “Ron’s played well for us. Expectations are always high in that room, and then LC’s been working hard, and he deserves an opportunity.”

–Running back running back Christine Michael has only two carries and has been active for just two games since being acquired in a trade with the Seattle Sept. 6. But with the running game and offense struggling in the midst of a three-game losing streak, the Cowboys are hoping Michael can provide a spark. Joseph Randle will remain the starter, but Michael will get a bigger load when the Cowboys return to action Oct. 25 against the New York Giants after this week’s bye.

The Cowboys rank 19th in the NFL in rushing, averaging 106.2 yards per game. Last year, they ranked second in the league, rushing for 147.1 yards per game.

“I think we’re going to give him an opportunity to go out and do some more snaps,” running backs coach Gary Brown said. “I think he’s earned it. He’s worked hard, he’s been everything we’ve expected off the field, and he’s a student of the game. I think he’s where he needs to be, and we want to take the reins off him and let him rock. We’re looking forward to seeing him play.”

–Wide receiver Dez Bryant is working hard to play against the Giants on Sunday but is making no guarantees.

“I’m getting back. I’m getting right,” Bryant said. “If it’s the Giants, it’s the Giants.”

Bryant has missed the past four games since undergoing surgery Sept. 14. It was always expected to be a six-week recovery period. That timetable puts his return right at the Giants game.

–Linebacker Rolando McClain and defensive end Greg Hardy had strong performances against the New England Patriots before the bye after missing the first four games of the season due to NFL suspensions. Although they would have preferred to keep it rolling, they have been helped by the bye week to get more practice time with their teammates and more time to get back in football shape to make them even better for the Giants game.

“I think any time you’re coming back from not playing for a little while you want to continue to get yourself acclimated, and those guys work hard,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “They were prepared last week to play that game. But now it gives them a chance to have a good couple of practice days before they get ready for the next week of preparation for the Giants. I thought they handled their work well in the game and they were back out there (Wednesday). Both of those guys had good practices.”

McClain played in 52 of 59 snaps against the Patriots and had nine tackles and one sack. Hardy played in 41 plays and had two sacks and five quarterback pressures.

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