- Jeff Dickerson, ESPN Staff Writer
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- For all the criticism levied toward the Chicago Bears' offensive line for its inability to protect quarterback Jay Cutler, the situation up front in Dallas might be worse, albeit for slightly different reasons.
Although Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has been under pressure and sacked seven times, the larger issue for Dallas seems to be the alarming number of penalties committed by the offensive line. The most egregious offenders are left tackle Tyron Smith and right tackle Doug Free. Smith leads the NFL with five false start penalties, and Free has drawn six flags for various rules infractions.
Dallas has been penalized 31 times for 238 yards compared to just 21 flags thrown against the Bears.
Factor in center Ryan Cook, who recently ascended to the starting job, and Monday could be a recipe for disaster for Dallas when they face an aggressive Bears defensive line that has accounted for 13 of the club's 14 sacks.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett was asked this week if he could empathize with the Bears' issues on the offensive line given his teams well-documented problems.
"At different times, we’ve done some good things up front," Garrett said. "We have a different combination of guys playing, three new starters in the interior of our line, and a few of those guys have been hurt through training camp. And also Ryan Cook, who has been our starting center for the last couple weeks, we didn’t sign him until after the preseason. So we have some moving parts in there, and really what you’re trying to do is you’re striving for consistent execution, and that’s what you try to do with all of your football team. It’s particularly important up front on the offensive line because it has such an impact on how you do on offense, both in the running game and the passing game.
"We feel like our communication is getting better, those guys are playing next to each other, and they’re reacting and seeing things the same way in a positive way, but it takes time to do that. So it’s a work in progress, really just like everything on our team. But we’re trying to go about it the right way and trying to get better every week."
The Cowboys are having offensive line problems of their own.