O-line becomes Cowboys' albatross

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Andre Gurode didn't have any interest in discussing the decline of the Cowboys' offensive line Sunday evening.

Gurode declined to stop to chat as he exited the Cowboys' locker room following a 34-27 loss to the Tennessee Titans. He bristled at a few questions as he walked toward his car.

"We're mushrooms," Gurode said, referring to an old offensive line axiom about flourishing despite being kept in the dark. "We only take criticism. We don't take praise."

Sorry, but that doesn't apply to the current Cowboys offensive line. It's an overhyped unit that is getting worse as it gets old.

Gurode and right guard Leonard Davis are perennial Pro Bowlers. They were given that honor last season based on reputation, not performance. Those two, along with fellow 30-something right tackle Marc Colombo, were major parts of the problem against the Titans.

Oh, and if you think it'll be a different story next week in Minnesota, perhaps you ought to review the film of the Cowboys' miserable playoff loss to the Vikings last season. The Cowboys' offensive line was completely dominated by the Vikings' modern-day version of the Purple People Eaters that day.

The Cowboys' line struggled against the Titans' no-name (for now) front four Sunday, with Tennessee's quick quartet of ends Dave Ball and Jason Babin and tackles Jason Jones and Tony Brown disrupting the Dallas offense. The Titans proved their pass rush is legitimate by tacking six sacks onto their league-high total.

"We still had 500-something yards of total offense," Gurode said.

Just imagine how explosive this offense -- which features premier playmakers at quarterback, running back, receiver and tight end -- could be if the line played well.

The Dallas offensive line still has the strength to occasionally overpower opponents, but the problem is that it makes way too many mistakes that lead to negative plays. Offensive lines that allow six sacks and commit six penalties usually play for losing teams.

It's only fair to point out that the Cowboys had allowed a league-low one sack in the first three games. However, they sacrificed the vertical passing game in the process to mask the offensive line's deficiencies.

Davis, the man with a $49.6 million contract, performed so poorly that he was benched in the second quarter. That wouldn't have happened if the Cowboys' coaching staff and personnel department didn't already have major concerns about his play.

The 6-foot-6, 355-pound Davis' feet are simply too slow to deal with the lateral quickness of guys like Jones, who had a pair of drive-killing sacks in the first half. Babin also exposed the bad-kneed Colombo's lack of mobility by dropping Tony Romo twice.

Colombo also committed a couple of personal fouls. His excessive celebration after Jason Witten's game-tying touchdown was a questionable call, but the late hit earlier in the game was foolish. Gurode and left tackle Doug Free also committed two penalties apiece, with each getting whistled for a false start and holding.

Colombo, as is his custom, declined to speak to the media after the game. Davis, to his credit, owned up to his poor performance despite the embarrassment of being benched.

"I wasn't playing good, so what can I really say?" Davis said. "What can I really say about it?"

The more important question: What can the Cowboys do about it?

The answer: Not much, at least right now.

It's obvious that the aging offensive line is an issue that the Cowboys desperately need to address. That process started with the release of Flozell Adams and the promotion of 26-year-old Free, who struggled for the first time all season Sunday.

Fans lobby for Jerry Jones to pull the trigger on a trade for Patriots holdout guard Logan Mankins, but that's a long shot at best. Jones has made it clear that he doesn't want to keep paying top dollar for offensive linemen, and Mankins is demanding to be paid even more than Davis, the highest-paid lineman in franchise history.

Colombo, left guard Kyle Kosier and Davis are all 32. Gurode is 31. Offensive line is without a doubt Dallas' top priority in the next draft.

In large part due to the current line's problems, the Cowboys could be drafting a heck of a lot higher than they hoped.

Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.