Seattle Seahawks

Giant mismatch? It is Dallas Cowboys’ beef up front

The Dallas Cowboys line up against the New England Patriots on Oct. 11, 2015, in Arlington, Texas.
The Dallas Cowboys line up against the New England Patriots on Oct. 11, 2015, in Arlington, Texas. AP

Anyone with even a modest understanding of the personnel makeup of these two NFL franchises — Seattle and Dallas — can see the most obvious mismatch in talent and construction come Sunday.

The Cowboys have invested $130 million total into their starting offensive line — with three first-round picks in left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zach Martin.

The Seahawks have invested $56.5 million total into their offensive line, made up of one first-rounder (left tackle Russell Okung), two former college defensive linemen (right guard J.R. Sweezy and center Drew Nowak) and a former college tight end (right tackle Garry Gilliam).

And what does that get you? The Dallas offensive line ranked No. 1 across the board last season, according to Pro Football Focus metrics. Even amid early season struggles this year — and a change in starting tailback — it still ranks as a consensus top-five rushing offensive line.

According to Football Outsiders metrics, the Seattle offensive line ranks ninth in blocking in the run game. And it is dead last in pass protection, giving up an NFL-high 31 sacks.

“They’ve put their money in it with three (first-rounders) playing there,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said of the Cowboys. “Those guys are all terrific football players.

“They’ve made a commitment to it, and (Dallas) is benefiting from it. They are as good as we will see all year long.”

Carroll does not need to see much film to confirm that. He witnessed it firsthand last year after the Cowboys rushed for 162 yards, to Seattle’s 90, in a 30-23 Dallas victory at CenturyLink Field.

“They are a bunch of big guys who run fast,” Seattle middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “The thing I remembered … last year, and even this year, is when they pull, just how fast they get around and how fast they come up at you.

“You might see one or two (linemen) do that, but it seems like all of them have the speed to get around.”

Wagner pointed to the game experience the Dallas starting unit has.

Even with rookie La’el Collins at left guard, Smith, Frederick, Martin and right tackle Doug Free have made 219 career starts in Dallas.

Free is the veteran. He has been in Dallas since 2007. Then the Cowboys started their draft-centric commitment to the offensive line by selecting Smith as the No. 9 selection out of USC in 2011.

Smith was the first offensive lineman selected by Dallas in the first round since owner Jerry Jones purchased the franchise in 1989.

“A fantastic athlete,” Carroll said of his former USC standout. And Jones agreed because he extended Smith to an eight-year, $97.6 million contract.

It hasn’t stopped there: Frederick was taken with the 31st pick out of Wisconsin in 2013. And Martin was selected at No. 16 out of Notre Dame last season.

“They are really in sync,” Wagner said. “You feel like they have been playing together for a while.”

Yet, it wasn’t until last week that the Cowboys’ blocking started to flash its old form. Behind Darren McFadden’s 157 rushing yards, Dallas amassed 233 — or a 5.7-yard-per-carry average, but lost 27-20 to the New York Giants.

“We controlled the line of scrimmage,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. “We have gotten better and better as the year has gone on.

“No unit works harder than that offensive line group.”

Quarterback Matt Cassel has been around the block in the NFL, spending 11 total seasons with five organizations.

Cassel has only spent five weeks with the Cowboys. It has been long enough to get a feel for how good his offensive line is.

“They are a special group, no doubt,” Cassel said. “A lot of them came in with one another, and it creates this great bond. And they are very, very talented, obviously.”

Todd Milles: 253-597-8442


SUNDAY: Seattle (3-4) at Dallas (2-4), 1:25 p.m., Ch. 13, 710-AM, 97.3-FM

NOTEBOOK: Seahawks are bracing to Dallas to blitz — often. B2