DALLAS - The Cowboys hired longtime Cincinnati Bengals assistant head coach and offensive line coach Paul Alexander on January 15. The move has brought upon trepidation to Cowboys fans as the Bengals are known for anything but their playoff wins and regular conference title game appearances.
When the Cowboys target a coach or bring one into the fold, I immediately look at connections to the current staff.
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and head coach Jason Garrett were a part of the 2004 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Okay.
Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and Garrett were part of the Miami Dolphins from 2005-06 under head coach Nick Saban. Okay.
There is no apparent connection between Alexander and the staff. It is the first connection-less hire in the Garrett era since Rob Ryan was tabbed as defensive coordinator in 2011. And just like with the Ryan hire, no doubt there aren't very many different degrees of separation between Alexander and Garrett, what with Ken Zampese, '90s Cowboys offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese's son, and Mike Zimmer having spent time in the Queen City. But the lack of immediate connection to Garrett makes it interesting.
Let's get down to numbers with Alexander.
From 2003-17, when Alexander added the assistant head coach title along with his offensive line duties, Cincinnati had just one season in the top-10 in rushing yards per attempt, 2004 when they finished ninth. From 2006-12 and then from 2015-17, the offense finished in the bottom-10 in the league in rushing yards per attempt.
Now, there were counterbalances to these otherwise damning years carrying the rock. For example, running back Rudi Johnson gained 1,309 yards and scored 12 touchdowns in the down year of '06. From 2009-11, Chicago Bears draft bust Cedric Benson had three straight seasons with over 1,000 yards rushing, and New England expatriate running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis also had a 1,000-yard season during the dismal stretch of 2006-12.
So what does Alexander have to offer?
Interestingly, Alexander's offensive line scheme was more of a power blocking scheme (so get used to #CowboysTwitter using the acronym "PBS" like they're special ops or something) in Cincinnati. The Cowboys have run more of a zone blocking scheme since Bill Callahan took the offensive line job in 2012. Recent offensive line coach Frank Pollack was also a zone blocking scheme instructor.
Guess who ran behind power blocking schemes.
Another reason for bringing in Alexander is his units have done a good job protecting the quarterback. Therefore, he shouldn't materially impact, but rather complement, an offensive line that has finished in the top-10 for four seasons since switching to zone blocking in 2012.
There were only three seasons since 2003 that the Bengals finished in the top-10 in most sacked allowed: 2008 (third), 2012 (seventh), 2016 (tied for seventh). However, there were nine seasons where the Bengals finished in the top-10 in fewest sacks allowed: 2004-05, 2007-11, and 2013-15. In other words, 6/7 of the Bengals' playoff-qualifying seasons in the Marvin Lewis era coincided with the offense finishing in the top-10 for fewest sacks allowed.
Pressure on quarterback Dak Prescott resulted in 32 sacks allowed for the Dallas offensive line in 2017, which was actually 10th-fewest in the league, but they allowed 23 of them in the final eight games. The offense went from nine sacks in the first half of the season to a little over three times as many in the second half of the season. Otherwise, who knows how low the offensive line could have gone.
Dallas finally brought in someone that was not part of the Garrett-Linehan echo chamber. Now, only the winds of autumn will reveal if this synthesis of blocking schemes results in better offensive output in 2018.
Do you think the Cowboys made the right move to bring in a new offensive line coach? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.
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