Friday, October 23, 2009

Dallas Cowboys' offensive line wants to avoid playing flag football

By Bill Nichols

IRVING – It takes perspective to rate the Cowboys' offensive line.

Is it the group that paved the way for consecutive 200-yard rushing games? Or the one that surrendered five sacks against Denver?

The Cowboys' paradoxical O-line has been dominant at times, leaving a trail of would-be tacklers. But it has also left a trail of yellow flags.

Bottom line: The Cowboys average 5.9 yards per carry, tops in the NFL, and rank ninth in passing average (259.4 yards per game).

"We've had very few sacks, we've had big games passing and big games running," coach Wade Phillips. "In both of those things your offensive line has to play well. Overall we've done well, but overall we're 3-2, so we want to improve on that. We're working hard offensive-line wise to be able to do that."

On Sunday against Atlanta, Pro Bowl left tackle Flozell Adams will take on Falcons end John Abraham, who has 87 career sacks.

Adams and the offensive line have fared well in tough matchups. Against the New York Giants, the unit helped produce 251 yards rushing and 151 yards passing. Left end Osi Umenyiora and right end Justin Tuck, going against Adams, had a combined two tackles.

Against Carolina, Adams limited Julius Peppers to only one solo tackle. But Adams' solid blocking has come at a price. The league's most penalized player racked up $25,000 in fines for penalties in the first three games, including two leg whips.

"He is not doing things to hurt people," Cowboys offensive line coach Hudson Houck said. "The reason he got the penalties really was because he was out of position. He tried to get back in position and the foot came up. It wasn't malicious at all. We've got to clean up the penalties."

The offensive line is responsible for 15 of Dallas' 37 penalties. Adams has drawn seven flags – four false starts, one holding, one tripping and one unnecessary roughness. His three-game stretch of fines drew a suspension warning.

"Sometimes you're overly aggressive and it leads to penalties, but that's just part of the game," Adams said. "You have to focus better and do the things to prevent those. It's going to happen every once in a while. You just don't want it to happen all the time."

The Cowboys can live with the holdings and other aggressive plays that result in penalties. It's the pre-snap ones that hurt the most because they are self inflicted.

In practice, a false start results in getting pulled from the drill.

"It's not like we don't care about the mistakes," right guard Leonard Davis said. "We take a lot of pride in everything we do."

Houck said holding penalties are caused primarily from being off balance or improperly positioned. Practices stress technique and footwork.

"That's one of the areas that we have to improve as a team," center Andre Gurode said. "We're making a collective effort to clean those things up."

Dallas' linemen average about 327 pounds, from 307-pound left guard Kyle Kosier to 353-pound Davis. They move well despite their size, which is one reason the Cowboys use the shotgun so much.

The line deserves much credit for the big numbers. When starting tailback Marion Barber was sidelined by injury, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice ran for 176 yards. Sunday will mark the first time since the Giants game that all three tailbacks have been healthy.

If you want to be critical of the Cowboys' offensive linemen, that's OK with them.

"We don't look for any glory or anything like that," Adams said. "Stats don't mean nothing. We go out there and do our job – pass protect, run block. If they want us to go on kickoff return, we'll help those guys out, no complaints."

The Cowboys' offensive line is working to reduce penalties. The breakdown on flags thrown, whether accepted or not:

LT Flozell Adams, seven: two false start calls (Kansas City); holding (Kansas City); two false start calls (Carolina); tripping (NY Giants); unnecessary roughness (Tampa Bay)

C Andre Gurode, three: ineligible downfield (Kansas City); holding (Denver); tripping (Denver)

RT Marc Colombo, two: false start (Kansas City), holding (Carolina)

LG Kyle Kosier, two: two holding calls (Kansas City)

RG Leonard Davis, one: holding (Denver)