Doug Free's missed block was first domino on painful play

OXNARD, Calif. – In the wake of Jason Witten’s injury, Jason Garrett can and will be questioned for playing his offensive stars more than a series behind a patchwork offensive line in the preseason opener.

Having said that, the play broke down because the Cowboys’ most experienced and expensive offensive lineman missed his block.

The play was doomed from the moment that Doug Free failed to execute his assignment. The pressure from Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston forced Tony Romo into freelance mode, as he spun out of the pocket and fired a hurried throw in the flat that led Witten right into a devastating hit by linebacker Rolando McClain.

It’s one thing for David Arkin, a second-year player with no regular season experience who is learning how to play center as he goes, to struggle. The sack Romo took on the next snap – again, why were the starters in there for another series? – can be chalked up to Arkin and new guard Mackenzy Bernadeau not being on the same page.

However, Free just got beat, the lowlight in a rough performance for the tackle entering the second season of a four-year, $32 million contract.

Free struggled enough in the first season of that contract for the Cowboys to decide to essentially demote him from left tackle to right tackle, having him switch sides with Tyron Smith. But right tackle is no picnic, especially in the NFC East.

Just look at the men Free will match up with in the six division games: the Giants’ Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, the Eagles’ Jason Babin and the Redskins’ Ryan Kerrigan.

If Free doesn’t return to the form that convinced the Cowboys to pay him handsomely, Witten’s injury will be the first of many ugly moments this season that start with Free failing to do his job.