« Jelani Jenkins (ankle) out of the walking boot | Main | A pup that has bite: Bobby McCain »

Dallas Cowboys OL not up to '14 standards but still very good

The Dallas Cowboys offensive line last season was generally considered among the best, if not the best unit in the NFL.

The Cowboys, after all, were second in the NFL in rushing yards and rushing yards per game and were third in average yards per rush. The Cowboys also tied for ninth with 30 sacks allowed. So this unit that boasts three former first-round draft picks got a lot of deserved attention.

The Cowboys offensive line weaved a reputation for itself.

Unfortunately, reputation is a fleeting thing in the NFL.

It doesn't carry over year-to-year. It must be earned year after year, game after game, snap after snap. If you don't believe that, consider the current narratives surrounding Peyton Manning or Rob Ryan or the Baltimore Ravens for that matter.

And looking at the production of the Cowboys offense, one might be tempted to think the Dallas offensive line can be included in that little list of much-hyped, previously high-caliber, highly respected units or players or teams that is simply not performing to standards now.

The Cowboys have allowed 20 sacks this season and that's tied with Houston for 16th place in the statistical category. You remember Houston? The Miami Dolphins collected four sacks against Houston last time they played a home game at Sun Life Stadium.

The running game behind that amazing Dallas forward wall has also failed to live up to its reputation. The Cowboys have dropped to ninth in the NFL in rushing yards per game.

And the effects on the unit have been felt on individuals. Guard Zack Martin, who didn't allow a sack as a rookie and was selected to the Pro Bowl, has allowed three sacks this season.

La'el Collins -- the subject of that Dolphins players-only flight (no knowledge of this by the organization, of course) to Baton Rouge to recruit an embattled free agent -- has been inconsistent as a rookie. I'm told he'll have a great play that suggests he truly is a future star. And then he'll bonk and play like ... like ... well, you know where I'm going but I'm not going to take a cheap shot here.

So the Cowboys offensive line is good from far. But apparently far from good.

Until you talk to someone who's studied them.

Dolphins defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo is a good guy with good sense and a good eye for the opponent. And what he sees on tape when he looks at the Cowboys offensive line is not a unit retreating to the mean after putting together one fabulous season.

He sees a talented group.

“I think they are certainly good," Anarumo said. "if you look, they’ve got a bunch of No. 1s and No. 2s out there if I’m not mistaken and they’re talented guys."

He sees reasons why the production hasn't been the same in 2015 as 2014.

"I think anytime that you go through change, you lose (Philadelphia Eagles RB) DeMarco Murray I think had almost 2,000 yards last year and then you don’t have your starting quarterback so maybe the ball is not coming out on time and I think everything plays into it. I think they are a very good offensive line and again, you always talk about the prideful guys that we have and they’re looking forward to the challenge."

Basically, Anarumo believes the fact Darren McFadden hasn't maximized his opportunities on run plays like Murray did last year (he's averaging 3.8 yards per carry) and Tony Romo has been out of the lineup seven of nine games and backup Brandon Weeden and free agent addition Matt Cassel are not as good, has affected the offensive line.

The statistics confirm that theory.

Romo played the first two games of the season. The Cowboys won them both. He was sacked three times those two games.

The seven games under Weeden and Cassel resulted in 17 sacks.

So with Romo, Dallas allowed 1.5 sacks per game. With the other guys, that increased to 2.4 sacks per game.

Romo, by the way, on Sunday will start for the first time since his clavicle injury Sept. 20. And he will have a healthy offensive line in front of him that will be quite motivated to keep him from getting hit.

That promises a good matchup for the Dolphins defensive front that has turned up the pressure on quarterbacks since Dan Campbell became interim coach. The Dolphins had one sack in four games under Joe Philbin.

They have 19 sacks the past five games. Last week, Miami had four sacks but also added 10 quarterback hits on Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford.

The Miami front, in other words, has lately been playing up to the expectations everyone had before the season began -- and this despite the absence of Cameron Wake.

The Dallas line has not performed to 2014 heights but much of it isn't their doing and that might change with Romo getting the football out on time on Sunday.

It'll should be an interesting match.