Every Sunday Night Football telecast, the starters of both teams stare into the camera and say their name and the college they attended. It’s pretty boring. Every now and then, someone will change it up by saying they attended “Ball So Hard University” or something like that, but otherwise, it’s filler. There’s nothing illuminating, just a recitation of the roster.
NBC added a little something extra this year. Underneath players’ names, there’s his PFF position ranking, essentially noting where he ranks amongst others with the same position (e.g. Von Miller is #1 amongst linebackers). Again, it normally tells you what you already knew. But sometimes…
You’ll get a run of guys who all have rankings in the top-10, and you’ll realize, “Oh, that’s why the Cowboys are so good. Their offensive line is filled with studs.”
The Cowboys have been a revelation this year. When Tony Romo broke his back, all expectations went out the window. They had a rookie quarterback—a fourth rounder at that—and a rookie running back. It would take them awhile to adjust. Of course it would.
A few months later, here we are: the Cowboys are the best team in football, and Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot are MVP contenders. Prescott and Elliot have gotten most of the praise. Prescott is just so poised, and Elliot is the second coming of Emmitt Smith. Sure, they’ve been great. But MVPs? They’re not even the reason why the Cowboys are winning again.
That would be their offensive line, the most deserving MVP candidate in the NFL.
To say that the Cowboys’ offensive line is dominant would be the understatement of the century. They are 1,586 pounds of football perfection. They move together, like a flock of birds, and they’re able to change direction just as quickly. Don’t even dream of setting them off course; they’ll just go through you.
In the process, they’ve opened the door for the rookies behind them to play like Pro Bowlers. So many youngsters fail to transition to the NFL because of the speed of the game. It’s too fast. But it’s not that Prescott and Elliot are super humans who adjusted on the fly (Peyton Manning, probably the smartest player ever, threw 28 interceptions his rookie year); they just haven’t had to see that rapid NFL pace themselves yet, thanks to the big boys up front. Prescott’s most impressive attribute has been his poise (he’s only thrown four interceptions), and he has good reason to be so calm in the pocket. He’s had the fourth longest time to throw in the league this year and has only gotten knocked down 4.3 percent of the time. Elliot, meanwhile, is leading the league in rushing yards by 300 yards. That’s a whole lot easier to do when your line is opening up holes this big:
The AP, which selects the MVP, does not have any rules stipulating whether an entire position group could win the Most Valuable Player award, and admittedly there is a certain awkwardness to the hypothetical. It’s an individual award after all, but if there’s any group that could take home an MVP, it’s an offensive line. Lines are a microcosm for football itself, where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Every man must do their job. Every step must be timed correctly, placed with precision. A good offensive line works together. A great offensive line is one unit that moves, thinks, and reacts all at once, all in synch, together. When an offensive line is doing everything right, they aren’t a collection of tackles and guards anymore. They’re a single entity.
Look at the way they move on this play.
NFL - Move the Sticks Scout School
The Cowboys are doing everything an offensive line is supposed to do. You forget you’re watching individuals. They play like one moving, breathing beast, so why couldn’t they be awarded as such?
Then, of course, there’s the debate about MVP awards that’s always brought up: what does valuable mean? Is it the best player or the most important? Whichever side you fall, the Cowboys offensive line passes the test. They are easily the best offensive line in the league, ranking first in both pass and run-blocking, and they’re certainly the most valuable unit in football as well. What would Prescott be without the protection he gets now? And how about Elliot? They’d just be rookies (likely still very good players, but rookies nonetheless), trying to adjust to a form of football that looks like its players are being fast-forwarded because they move so quickly.
And that’s the heart of it. The Cowboys are the best team in the league, and their offensive line is the reason why. Plain and simple. They allow Dak to be Dak, Zeke to be Zeke, and the Cowboys to keep on rolling. When they cut and pull together or set up for a screen pass, they form a beautiful being—and the NFL’s most valuable player.