Back the the go-go '90s, Cowboys' sage Nate Newton described the atmosphere in a huddle during a tense game: Michael Irvin was his loquacious self, proclaiming his invincibility and demanding the ball. Troy Aikman was curt and cutting, insisting on focus and deference. In the center of it all, according to Newton, stood Emmitt Smith, wide eyed and silent, "like a panther."
The Cowboys again appear to have found that big running back cat who can stalk a defense and then pounce at the key time. Felix Jones' 73-yard run late in the 3rd quarter last week finished a limping Eagles defense, and moved Dallas into the divisional round for the second time since they faced Carolina in January 1997.
Jones has overcome a knee sprain which shelved him for two game at mid-season, and which caused more than a few observers to question his durability and value. Jones is giving Cowboys fans their first extended view of his skills. For the last month, Jones has seen his workload increase, to the point where he can be considered the feature back in Dallas' running back rotation. He has topped 10 carries in every game since the Chargers loss and is edging closer to getting 20 touches a game from scrimmage.
Jones' long-run speed makes him the essential element in the Cowboys rushing attack and leaves for debate which which power back should complement him? Consider how the Cowboys missed Felix' explosiveness mid-season. He sprained a medial collateral ligament at the end of a big run in the Carolina game and missed the next two games. Jones resumed play after the week six bye, but wore a knee brace which curtailed his shake. He carried the ball just 33 times in his first five games back.
Jones dropped the brace Thanksgiving week and raced through the Raiders on a 49 yard touchdown. The explosive runs he demonstrated in the September games against New York and Carolina, where Dallas posted back-to-back team rushing totals over 200 yards, resumed.
Dallas' Ground Attack 2009
- 10 games with a healthy Felix Jones: 156 rushing yards per game
- 7 games with a missing or brace-encumbered Jones: 106 rushing yards per game
That's a healthy 47% improvement with a healthy, brace-free Felix in the lineup.
The team now had the confidence that Jones won't break, and has increased his work load. Jones has carried ten or more times in each of the last five games, and is averaging 15 touches and 96 yards from scrimmage. Not bad for a rotation guy, though I wonder how much Felix will rotate on par with Marion Barber or Tashard Choice, with a production curve that's rising as quickly as his:
- vs. Chargers - 11 touches, 53 yards from scrimmage, 15% of total offensive yards;
- vs. Saints -- 15 touches, 68 yfs. 15% of offensive yds.;
- vs. Redskins -- 14 touches, 85 yfs., 22% of offensive yds.;
- vs. Eagles -- 16 touches, 94 yfs., 20% of offensive yds.;
- vs. Eagles -- 17 touches, 178 yfs., 42% of offensive yds.
16 touches seems to be the sound barrier for Felix Jones. Get him to 17 or higher and defenders can't hear him until he's five yards past them.
The Cowboys hope they have a three-game season in front of them. I know who I want getting the lion's share of running backs touches in those remaining games -- the biggest cat of them all, Felix Jones