Anyone who has either played or observed the game of football, especially at the NFL level, will tell you that the game is won “in the trenches”. The trenches refer to that small space that exists between the offensive and defensive fronts, extending out to the edges on both sides – the offensive tackle on offense and the defensive end/outside linebacker on defense.
Many people could say that the games are won by the skill guys – the quarterbacks, receivers, running backs. An offensive or defensive lineman’s job isn’t glamorous, but it does determine the outcome of the game. If you can’t dominate the line or scrimmage on either side, you don’t win.
The Dallas Cowboys have problems on both of their fronts, and really if they don’t get them fixed, they’ll lose those battles and they could be headed for another disappointing season.
The team has issues all along the offensive line, with starting right tackle Doug Free shifting to guard on that side because of injuries, and Free’s backup Jermey Parnell taking over at Free’s natural position. There’s also regular right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau playing left guard because of Ronald Leary‘s injury. On Saturday against the Cincinnati Bengals, you would see plays where Free, Parnell and Bernadeau did get in front of their man and do a decent job. You would also see plays where the trio would miss their man – whether a failed cut back block or overstepping where they were supposed to be – and where they would just get simply overpowered.
Obviously, no one is naive enough to think that plays like that don’t happen to the best of linemen – they do. But when it happens on a near consistent basis, it’s a problem. With Nate Livings battling a “degenerative knee” according to owner Jerry Jones and Leary possibly being ready for Week 1, the team does have some issues on their hands.
The Cowboys also have similar issues along the defensive line. Anthony Spencer has missed virtually all of camp with a knee bruise, but the good news with him is that he has been cleared to run and is “hopeful” he’ll be ready for the season. The bad news, however, is that starting defensive tackle Jay Ratliff – who has missed the entire preseason – will most likely be placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, which would cause him to miss the first six regular season games.
Ratliff’s backup, Nick Hayden, has performed admirably in the preseason, but in order for the Cowboys defense – a defense that has been stellar in the exhibition games – to really be great this season, they’ll need everyone healthy. Fellow tackle Jason Hatcher missed Monday’s practice with groin soreness, but said he expects to play in Week 1.
The regular season hasn’t started yet, and the Cowboys have dealt with more than enough injuries along both fronts. Already weak on the offensive line, and with a new defensive scheme that is predicated on defensive line pressure – especially with the defensive tackles – they will need both of those lines to perform well.
If not, we could see the Cowboys again not meet expectations in 2013.
Jake Carapella is a Dallas Cowboys writer for RantSports. Follow him on twitter @JKCSports.