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FRISCO, Texas — Offensive line coach Frank Pollack will not be back with the Dallas Cowboys in 2018, as he joined the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday.

It is the sixth change on Jason Garrett’s staff since the season ended and perhaps the most significant, because of the resources the Cowboys have put in their offensive line and their desire to be a run-first team.

Paul Alexander, who spent more than 20 years with the Cincinnati Bengals, is interviewing with the Cowboys as Pollack’s replacement, according to a source. A source said Tom Cable, who was fired by the Seattle Seahawks and was a college teammate of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, is also a candidate.

Assistant offensive line coach Marc Colombo, who played for the Cowboys from 2005-10, will also be in the mix.

Pollack took over for Bill Callahan after the 2014 season. Dallas was in the top 10 in rushing — including second in both 2016 and 2017 — in each of Pollack’s three seasons as the line coach.

During Pollack’s tenure, left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin made the Pro Bowl each season and all three were first-team All-Pro picks in 2016. Pollack also oversaw the move of La’el Collins from left guard to right tackle in 2017.

Pass protection, however, was an issue in 2017. Dak Prescott was sacked 32 times after he was sacked 25 times as a rookie. The Cowboys missed Smith for three full games and all but three snaps of a fourth. In the first game Smith missed, Prescott was sacked eight times by the Atlanta Falcons, with backup tackles Chaz Green and Byron Bell giving up six sacks. Without Smith on the field, Prescott threw one touchdown pass. The protection was better with Smith on the field, but Prescott’s yard per attempt dropped from 8 to 6.8 in 2017.

Pollack joined the Cowboys in 2013 as Callahan’s assistant offensive line coach. When Callahan left for the Washington Redskins, Garrett promoted Pollack, who is a stickler for details and technique.

Pollack joins special-teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia, wide receivers coach Derek Dooley, quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson, secondary coach Joe Baker and tight ends coach Steve Loney as coaches not returning. Bisaccia was named the special-teams coach with the Oakland Raiders, and Dooley became the offensive coordinator at Missouri. Loney is retiring, and Wilson and Baker had expiring contracts.

Running backs coach Gary Brown, whose contract ran out, also reportedly interviewed with the Raiders and has drawn interest from at least one more team. The Cowboys, however, want to keep Brown. Passing game coordinator/linebackers coach Matt Eberflus and secondary coach Greg Jackson also have expiring contracts.

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FRISCO, Texas – I know these are strange times when I find myself echoing Jason Garrett – but that’s where we’re at in Week 15.

It’s been a long, strange season. Even by NFL football standards, this one feels like a particularly grueling marathon, from the preseason suspension drama to the off-field storylines, not to mention the inconsistent play on the field.

Take all of that stuff into account, though, and I really think we’re looking at a one-game season for the Dallas Cowboys.

That’s the type of stuff that Garrett loves to say in his press conferences and his locker room speeches – focus on one day at a time, never look past the opportunity in front of you. Yada, yada, yada.

I typically find it all pretty boring, but it fits fairly well in a week like this.

Here’s my reasoning, along with a few other thoughts for Week 15:

1. It’s a big “if,” but if the Cowboys can find a way to get a win in Oakland on Sunday night, the last two weeks of the season flips completely on its head.

We can sit here and say that this Cowboys team isn’t good enough to finish 10-6 and make noise in the playoffs, and that’s honestly fair. They were beaten soundly by the last three playoff contenders they faced – Atlanta, Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Chargers.

But the beauty of the issue is that this Cowboys team is only going to exist for one more week.

Win or lose, when the Cowboys get home from California on Monday morning, Ezekiel Elliott will be allowed to hop in his car and drive to work. He’s still 10th in the league in rushing yards despite missing the past month, and his yards per game average is 13 yards better than the next best back in the league.

We know by now that the Cowboys are a different team with Elliott on the field. Of course it’s possible that it takes him some time to get up to speed after missing six weeks, but it’s still much better to have him than not.

2. To put it more simply, I’m not very confident that this Cowboys team can go 3-0 to wrap up the season – but this Cowboys team doesn’t have. This current group of players merely has to win one game on the West Coast against an Oakland group with a losing record.

If the Cowboys can manage that, however pretty or ugly it looks on the field, they’ll be 8-6 when arguably their best player returns to the fold – and then all bets are off.

3. This is the part where you remind me about all the other stuff that has to happen for the Cowboys to make the playoffs – aside from going 3-0. And I get that.

But honestly, if Dallas can handle its business and win three more games, a lot of that stuff is in line to fall the right way.

Take a look around the upcoming schedule, and you see exactly why the NFL backloads the season slate with division games and grudge matches – it creates drama.

This Sunday, while the Cowboys are waiting for their night game against the Raiders, the Panthers will host the Packers and the Seahawks will host the Rams. The week after, there’s a Saturday night game between Green Bay and Minnesota, followed by Sunday games between Detroit and Cincinnati, as well as New Orleans and Atlanta. And then of course every single Week 17 matchup is a division game.

It’s going to create some really fun scoreboard watching during the final three weeks.

Essentially, it boils down to this: the Falcons and Packers hold head-to-head tiebreakers over Dallas. The Cowboys need Green Bay to lose one of its last three games – against either Carolina, Minnesota or Detroit. They need Atlanta to lose two of its last three – coming from the trio of Tampa Bay, New Orleans and Carolina. They also want the Lions to also lose one, whether it comes against Chicago, Cincinnati or Green Bay.

Given the Seahawks’ loss to Jacksonville on Sunday evening, the Cowboys can overtake them simply by winning that game on Christmas Eve.

4. It’s a lot to process, and it ultimately doesn’t mean anything if the Cowboys don’t win out.

But just to keep it simple: for the next three weeks, you’re rooting against the Falcons, Lions and Packers. It might not hurt to root for the Los Angeles Rams and Carolina Panthers, as well.

The Cowboys haven’t gotten a ton of help in that regard over the last two weeks, but there’s still plenty of time for these wildcard odds to swing in their favor. As long as they keep winning.

5. The NFL did a good job of scheduling to create some late-season drama, but my goodness can we get some help from the football gods?

I’ve already used this column to lament the amount of significant injuries this season, so I’m not going to spend a ton of time on it. But man, as a fan of football, it’s hard to articulate what a bummer it is that we won’t see Carson Wentz in the playoff this year.

I know, I know. Don’t even bother. You as Cowboys fans hate the Eagles, and you didn’t want them to win a Super Bowl, anyway. I completely understand that. But the playoffs are going to happen one way or another, and I’d just as soon watch the best product possible in the biggest games of the year.

It would’ve been fun to see if Wentz could handle the staggering pressure of delivering for one of the NFL’s longest-suffering franchises. It would’ve been fun to see the reaction around Philadelphia if the Eagles were dealt a bitter disappointment, like what happened to the Cowboys last January. Instead, we’re just stuck with the 500th major injury this season – and it just sucks for the quality of football we’re watching.

If the playoffs started today, the quarterbacks of the top two teams in the NFC would be Nick Foles and Case Keenum. No disrespect intended toward them, but it’s just not must-see TV.

6. Thanks to DeMarcus Lawrence, we’re having quite the conversation about penalties these last few days.

There’s no way you missed it, but just in case you did, Lawrence had quite a sound bite about the officiating in the Cowboys’ last few games – or lack thereof, in his opinion:

That transcription doesn’t even include the expletive he threw in at the end, for good measure. But you get the point. There has been a noticeable lack of holdings calls for this Dallas defense this season.

I actually took the time to look it up, thanks to the wonders of the Internet. Here is your breakdown.

So, yes. Lawrence isn’t imagining things. The Cowboys have only benefitted from eight holding calls all year – and four of those came in the first three weeks of the season. From Week 4 against Los Angeles, until Week 10 against Atlanta, they didn’t receive a single holding call from an opposing offensive lineman.

On strictly offensive and defensive plays, NFL refs have thrown a total of 514 offensive holding flags this year. That’s an average of 16 per team – so the Cowboys have received exactly half of the league average.

7. At the same time, I’m not sure I can follow you on this talk about NFL officiating conspiracies. It honestly just seems like bad luck, more than anything else.

Look at the rest of that breakdown. The Cowboys bring up the rear, but the Eagles, Panthers and Seahawks are not far behind – with each of the three drawing just 11 holding flags. And those are some of the most fearsome pass rushes in the league, featuring players like Fletcher Cox, Julius Peppers and Michael Bennett.

The New Orleans Saints are having a defensive renaissance thanks to Pro Bowl talents like Cam Jordan, and the Broncos of course have Von Miller – and they have each drawn just 12 holding flags.

I think it probably has a lot to do with the officiating crew you draw for any given game, as well as the circumstances in the game and the players involved – shocking analysis, I know.

Another thing I wonder is about the recognition of the players involved, so to speak. For instance, it seems like the Dallas offensive line has been flagged an inordinate amount of times. Tyron Smith and Jonathan Cooper have been called for holding five teams each, while La’el Collins has incurred three holdings flags, with two for Travis Frederick.

Am I crazy to think that because the Cowboys’ offensive line is highly lauded and filled with Pro Bowlers that they’re more likely to draw a flag if their technique isn’t perfect? I don’t think so.

In the same vein, the Cowboys’ pass rush isn’t exactly stocked with household names. DeMarcus Lawrence is obviously No. 2 in the NFL in sacks right now, but he has been an under-the-radar player for the entirety of his career before this. The same can be said for all of his linemates.

I wonder if that factors into things, and if we’ll see more favorable calls for these Dallas defenders as their stature continues to grow in the league.

8. I’m thankful heading into this Oakland trip that these teams are still relevant – even if both clubs thought they’d have a more successful season.

The Raiders are heading for Las Vegas in the near future, so I’d imagine this is the last time we’ll see the Cowboys play a regular season game in Oakland. Like I said, I’m sure the Raiders were hoping they’d have more than six wins at this point. I’m positive the Cowboys were planning on having more than seven.

Still, both of these teams still have hope of making the playoffs, so I’m hopeful the venue should do this matchup justice. I want to see the Black Hole in all its glory, and I can’t think of two better fanbases to fill up a prime time atmosphere than the Raiders, and the Cowboys – who I’m positive will be well-represented on the West Coast. Looking forward to seeing y’all there.

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Sherrington: Why is it they’re struggling so much against the run?

Machota: Sean Lee would be where I start. I think you’re a different defense with Sean Lee out there. With that being said, I really didn’t feel this defense was going to be any better than it was the last couple years – it’s still going to be a team that has to win with its offense. Really in the NFL nowadays there really isn’t a dominant team. You don’t have to be this complete team on both sides of the ball. But these last two games are games they won last year. When the offense played the way they did against the Rams and against the Packers, those had games they’d closed out but couldn’t get the stop late. Yeah Sean Lee being out is a big part of it but you have guys in there that you think can get the job done but that just isn’t the strong part of their team. Fans get annoyed because they can’t make these key stops but we haven’t seen them make these key stops over the last three or four years. I don’t see that changing any time soon. They’ve invested in the defense early in the draft but they have to do that multiple drafts to get to where the defense is the strength of the team and I don’t see that happening in the next year or two.

Sherrington: So Sean Lee will get back and of course two weeks ago Anthony Hitchens was back against the Packers and he had one really good moment… Is any (linebacker) help going to have to come from within?

Machota: The best thing that could happen is they get Sean Lee back and for Sean Lee to be healthy. If he’s out there and healthy … this isn’t really your traditional defense where you have three linebackers on the field at all times. You’re basically playing two. If Lee’s out there all the time, then really you have to worry about one other spot, that being the middle spot with Anthony Hitchens and Jaylon Smith. I think if you have all three of those guys playing, I think they’re going to be pretty strong at linebacker because Jaylon Smith playing 60 plays, that’s just not the right thing to do right now. They had to do it because they were thin at the position, with Sean Lee being out. Your best bet with Jaylon Smith right now is playing 25-30 plays and that’s what it looks like it’ll be with Anthony Hitchens back. That being said, Anthony Hitchens was dealing with an injury to start the season.

The hamstring injuries, as we all know from following the Cowboys, how common those things are and how they can flare up and get work. So there’s no guarantee that those guys are going to all be out there, but you’re greatest hope at linebacker would be that all three of them can stay healthy enough to stay on the field and if they do I think they’ll be fine there. That’s asking a lot because of the injuries in the past, and that’s why I think you would kick the tires on a Navarro Bowman if they were given the opportunity. Obviously he stayed in the Bay Area by signing the one year deal with Oakland, but that’s why you kick the tires on that if given the opportunity. You really do need another linebacker in there that you can count on. Now the next guy up would be Damien Wilson, but I don’t think Damien Wilson right now is at the same level as Navarro Bowman, so if you can upgrade it you try, but really they need those three guys to stay healthy.

Sherrington: The problem for Jaylon Smith is even if you cut his snaps down, and you’re right 60 was ridiculous, to get it down to 25 or 30, the point is it’s not so much that he’s being exposed because he’s worn out. He just doesn’t have the speed at this point to cover running backs coming out of the backfield. You watch his straight ahead stuff he’s pretty good, but when he has to go side-to-side, that’s where he really struggles. To me if he’s playing 25 plays or if he’s playing 10 plays or 15 plays, he’s still going to get in trouble in those kinds of situations. An opponent is going to look at that and they’re going to see him out there and they’re going to make him the focal point, I think, of what they use to try and beat the Cowboys.

I think that’s the big problem here, is that Jaylon Smith got rushed back, and by the Cowboys who were trying to trumpet this as oh my gosh, he’s just going to be an unbelievable player and we said all along that was unfair to him to say that and have those expectations. And now we’re seeing it’s not just about it being bad public relations, it’s just a bad job of planning. If you didn’t have the faith in Damien Wilson to come in and be the guy who’d fill in if Jaylon couldn’t make it, if you really believed all that and you didn’t think Damien Wilson was good enough, well then shame on you.

Machota: I think they also did it to build some confidence in Jaylon Smith. To get him out there and maybe the more he played, the more comfortable he’d get …

With that said, I think you can do that at 30 snaps. I don’t think you need to be giving him 60. I think that was too much, it put him in a bad spot, but I think it’s interesting also with what happened to Aaron Rodgers recently and the way the Packers have handled compared to the way the Cowboys handled it. It’s interesting, you mention Jaylon Smith and how it’s a disservice to him that they wanted to bring him back and they talked up of what kind of player he’s going to be when he comes back, and just the way the Packers have handled everything with Aaron Rodgers makes me think about that a lot. Because he has this collarbone injury, he’s going to have surgery on it. The same thing as Tony Romo.

Well when that happened to Tony Romo, what was Jerry Jones doing? He was going on the radio talking about we could have Tony back in six to eight weeks. Look at the way the Packers handled it. They’re already saying that yeah he’s probably done for the season. If Jerry Jones was the owner of the Packers right now, do you believe that he would be sitting there and saying yeah we’re without Rodgers for the rest of the season, so we’ve got this Hundley kid and this is our guy. No, Jerry Jones would be doing his radio show up in Green Bay about Rodgers isn’t done, the bone heals in six weeks and he could be back in eight and that’s just the difference between the Cowboys and other teams. Now I do believe you should get Jaylon Smith out there because I do think getting on the field builds confidence, especially being away from the game for a year with that injury. I just don’t think he ever should have been on the field for 60 plus plays.

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The Cowboys remain one of six NFL teams who haven’t had a player protest by kneeling, sitting or raising a fist during the pre-game anthem. Only the Cowboys, Cardinals, Bears, Vikings, Bengals and Jets haven’t had a player protest during the anthem.

Though Dallas had its bye week Sunday, the protests around the league continued in Week 6.

Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch sat during the anthem, Giants defensive end Olivier Vernon kneeled and three Miami Dolphins waited to jog on the field until after the anthem. Wide receiver Kenny Stills, safety Michael Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas had taken a knee in protest during the anthem in recent games. This week, Dolphins coach Adam Gase asked players to remain in the locker room or tunnel if they were not going to stand for the anthem. All other Miami and Atlanta players stood during the anthem.

And the most widespread protest of the week? That came from the Cowboys’ next opponent, the San Francisco 49ers.

A half-dozen San Francisco players knelt during the national anthem before the team’s game at Washington — a week after about a dozen 49ers took a knee and Vice President Mike Pence left the stadium.

Safety Eric Reid, who labeled Pence’s exit a “PR stunt,” was among the six active 49ers who knelt on their sideline. They were joined by linebacker Dekoda Watson, who was inactive and not in uniform.

The 49ers have been among the most visible protesters in the NFL, which has found itself in a back-and-forth with President Donald Trump about standing during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Last year, then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the movement to kneel or sit during the anthem as a way of protesting racial inequality and police brutality.

The Cowboys haven’t had a player protest during the anthem, though defensive linemen Damontre Moore and David Irving have raised fists at its conclusion. Even so, Dallas became the center of the controversy last week when owner Jerry Jones said following the Packers game that any player “disrespectful to the flag” won’t be allowed to play.

Jones doubled down on his hardline stance Tuesday during his radio show on KRLD-FM (105.3 The Fan).

“If you do not honor and stand for the flag in the way that a lot of our fans feel that you should then you won’t play,” Jones said. “That’s nothing new as far as that being my wish or want [for] the Cowboys.”

“I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding as to where I want the personnel for the Cowboys to be when we’re at the No. 1 workplace we have, which is the field and the sideline on game day,” Jones said. “I want to do everybody a service, as I should in leading the team, and let’s be really clear about what our expectations are.”

The Cowboys were largely silent after a players’ meeting with Jones on Wednesday. Irving said it was a “private meeting we had, we can’t really speak on it.” The defensive lineman also said the meeting answered some questions while raising others.

Cornerback Orlando Scandrick,  a team captain, walked out of the locker room while listening to the song “FDT [Expletive] Donald Trump.” He said he was “listening to my music,” and that he likes the artists, before offering seven “no comment” to questions about the meeting.

As the conversation turned to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Scandrick said, “We’re allowed to support this.”

Jones became the first NFL owner to declare that he would bench players who are “disrespectful to the flag” during the anthem after Sunday’s loss to the Green Bay Packers. The Cowboys had met before the Week 3 game at Arizona and decided to kneel, along with Jones, as a show of unity before the anthem, then stood during the anthem and while the flag was displayed.

That came when every NFL team demonstrated in some fashion after President Donald Trump called for players who protest during the anthem to be fired. The NFL has not enforced discipline on the many players who have protested during the last year.
Jones doubled down on his hardline stance Tuesday during his radio show on KRLD-FM (105.3 The Fan).

“If you do not honor and stand for the flag in the way that a lot of our fans feel that you should then you won’t play,” Jones said. “That’s nothing new as far as that being my wish or want [for] the Cowboys.”