In my thirst for Cowboys content, I've come across a recurring theme. Everywhere I go I see comments or questions asked of analysts about the chances of Demarco Murray and Felix Jones lining up in the same backfield together. It seems that the prospect of this really has quite a few fans excited. To most analyst's credit, they down play this scenario saying that it might occur 2 or 3 times a game but Murray should be the feature back and Felix should return to his change of pace role that he was so good at when he first came into the league.
The rest of the story after the break.I for one couldn't agree more. Murray should be the everydown back. He has proven more over these last four games than Felix has proven over his entire career. I'm not writing this to disparage Felix in any way. I like him as a player and what I know of him as a person. But let's deal in reality. He was drafted as a change of pace back. He's been a change of pace back his entire career, even in college. He found a niche in our offense. He was the best in the business at what he did. Dallas made two mistakes regarding Felix. First was drafting a change of pace back in the first round. By definition Felix was destined to be a bust. You never draft a change of pace back in the first or even second for that matter. Our second mistake was trying to turn him into something that he is not, a feature back. I find it comical if not somewhat sad that Jerry's initial mistake forced him to make the second mistake in an ill-fated attempt to save face.
You might say that Murray hasn't really proved anything. It's only a four game stretch and this isn't the first time we've jumped at a hot start by a RB and proclaimed him the next Emmitt. At one point or another we were ready to anoint Hambrick, Julius Jones, MBIII and Felix. How did any of those work out? Well, an aging Emmitt made Hambrick look better than he ever was. Julius was truly excellent at a couple of types runs, namely the lead draw, that were featured in our offense, but was very pedestrian at everything else. After defenses figured that out, his days were numbered. Barber was an excellent change of pace bruiser, but once he became the everydown back, because of his running style, he quickly wore down to nothing. Felix was another change of pace back. However, he was too fragile to take the pounding that the everydown job requires. The Cowboys didn't learn their lesson the first time around. A lot of us fans were fooled a second time as well. Shame on everyone. Murray started his college career as a smallish 4.2 speed merchant. After a horrific injury to his knee, he remade himself into what you see today. He proved himself by withstanding a grueling workhorse of a senior season, pounding the rock week after week without injury. You don't score 65 career collegiate TDs if you don't have that durability gene. He's been there and done that at a high level and has excelled. Sometimes you don't need an entire rookie season to realize what you've got. Sometimes you just know. Sometimes you can just see that this guy has something those other guys don't.
Back to the point, I started hearing the phrase 'Dream Backfield.' The last time I heard that nonsense was when we had Tony Dorsett and Hershel Walker. In my memory, that didn't work out so well. Neither did the dream backfield of Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson. At least in Dallas' case, there was a lot of jealousy, strife and bitterness involved in the two backs locker room dividing relationship. Mostly, Dorsett was an a**hole. But then I realized that it's not really the same because in both of those cases you had legends near the ends of their careers and budding superstars with dazzling resumes and lots of fanfare. Felix Jones is hardly a legend and nowhere near the end of his career. And while Murray had quite the college career, being a third round pick, he hardly came into the season with much fanfare.
While their relationship should be a lot less contentious, I can't see much success coming from them being on the field at the same time. Some may point to the dynamic duo in Houston as an example of a dream backfield, but that's more of the same situation that we have. Arian Foster got hurt and Ben Tate stepped up. Now that Foster has returned, he's gone back to his usual role. I'm not sure how often the two are ever actually on the field at the same time. If past and recent Cowboy history has taught us anything it's that the fullback position is crucial to our success. Not even a good blocking tight end could fulfill the roll of a true fullback for us. We can't afford to take the fullback off the field to insert Felix on a regular basis. We'd be getting away from what works to explore the unknown.
I can imagine one particular play where having them both in the backfield would be beneficial. It's a variation of a play that I saw run by the Buffalo Bills. The Bills had Fred Jackson at the HB position and C.J. Spiller in the FB position. They were in a base 21 with a TE and the 2 WRs split wide. Spiller motioned right and went out into the pattern. Because Buffalo is built for speed, we were somewhat prepared for this. Instead of having a slow LB on Spiller, we had Ball in playing the LB position. It didn't matter. Spiller blew by Ball like he was running in mud. We got lucky because Fitzpatrick threw long. It should have gone for big yardage. I figure that we could do the same thing out of our heavy 22 set with Felix in the FB position. We make our opponent think we're going heavy. The safeties cheat up to stop the run and we get a LB or Safety on Felix. That could turn into a big play. A variation of that play would be to have Murray in the FB position motioning out. Romo could do his patented three step drop fake, forcing the LBs to back up in coverage and then pitch it to a streaking Jones. This would hopefully get him outside of contain and into space where he is so dangerous.
With my limited experience and knowledge, I'm certainly no offensive coordinator. I'm sure there are other plays that can be drawn up that I can't even fathom. But whatever play you diagram, it would still be a gimmick. Gimmicks do not equal consistent offense. They are trickery. They work because you don't expect them. It you did, they would be easily defensed. If not, we would run five double reverses a game. Are we not the same people who jump on JG's back all the time about being too cute and trying to outsmart everyone with his Princeton education?
I'm a big believer in defined roles as far as running backs are concerned. You do the heavy lifting. You take care of short yardage. You block. And you are our change of pace/ home run hitter. If you want to look at how Felix should be used then check out the Saints and how they use Darren Sproles. They have two heavy lifters there and Sproles as the homerun hitter. Sproles has great numbers, 6.8 ypc, but he has way fewer carries than either Ingram or Thomas. We almost had that lethal combination before, but we had the wrong guy doing the heavy lifting. We got the right guy now. We shouldn't use our running backs by committee or a bunch of gimmicky trickery. Everyone here should know their role and do their jobs. That's how we will build consistent offense. That's how we will consistently win.