The Dallas Cowboys fired offensive line coach Paul Alexander on Monday, continuing the bye week shake-up that began with the team trading its 2019 first-round draft pick for Oakland Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper last week. Alexander got the ax seven games into his Cowboys tenure, following a number of underwhelming performances by his unit, which was expected to be among the best in the league before the season.
The line's performance eight days ago against the Redskins was particularly desultory. The Redskins defensive line sacked Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott four times, forcing two fumbles, both of which resulted in turnovers. Prescott's second fumble, forced by Redskins defensive end Ryan Kerrigan deep in the fourth quarter with the Cowboys trailing 13-10, was recovered and returned for a decisive 1-yard touchdown by the Redskins' Preston Smith. The Cowboys' run game didn't fare much better, tallying just 74 yards in the eventual 20-17 loss.
The bad day from left tackle Tyron Smith, left guard Connor Williams, center Joe Looney, right guard Zack Martin and right tackle La'el Collins appears to have been the final straw for Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. Rather than shuffling players around so they can play their preferred positions — Williams is a natural tackle and Collins is a natural guard — the head coach decided to dump Alexander.
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"While approaching the midpoint of the season and going through an overall evaluation of our entire operation during the bye week, we felt that this move would serve the best interests of our team moving forward," Garrett said in a statement. "We have great respect and admiration for Paul and what he has accomplished in a very successful career in the NFL. These are not easy decisions to make at any time of the year, but we will move ahead with the utmost confidence in what Marc Colombo and Hudson Houck will bring to our team in their new roles."
Colombo, a former Cowboys player, will take over directly for Alexander, but Houck is the more interesting name in Garrett's announcement. Houck — who is slated to rejoin the Cowboys to advise Colombo — previously led the Cowboys' offensive line from 1993 to 2002, winning two Super Bowls and guiding one of the most dominant units in NFL history.
Alexander had the misfortune of being without All-Pro Travis Frederick during all of 2018 as the center fought Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disease, but it's his approach to pass protection that likely doomed his time in DFW. Alexander preaches a technique that is more about finesse and efficiency of movement, rather than brute force. Smith and Collins, especially, seemed to struggle to get the message, combining for 11 penalties so far this season. Colombo and Houck will attempt to return the Cowboys' front five to their smash-mouth ways.
With Alexander out and Cooper in, it's clear that Garrett, Jerry Jones and the rest of Cowboys' management are loading for the nine-game stretch run. If his team can't win at least six of those nine facing a less than intimidating schedule, it may finally be Garrett's time to go.