The Dallas Cowboys struck gold when they drafted Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft. The Cowboys have the complete package in Murray. He has the size (6'0, 215) and speed (4.41 40 yard dash) combination that NFL teams look for in running backs, but Murray also is a physical runner who possesses great vision.
Obviously the Cowboys have a game changer at running back, but they lack the offensive line capable of creating any room to run the football. Murray hasn't even been able to get to the line of scrimmage before being hit by multiple defenders.
The offensive line should take a lot of the blame for the failure of the running game. They simply have not been able to push or drive the defensive line back. The Cowboys have one of the worst running games (30th overall) in the league.
To keep things in perspective, the Cowboys have faced some teams who are very good against the run. The Chicago Bears (2nd overall), the Seattle Seahawks (3rd overall) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4th overall) all rank in the top five against the run.
While the offensive line has been pretty abysmal in 2012, the Cowboys have also not seen a return in their investment at fullback. Tony Fiammetta was a major find for the Cowboys' scouting department last season. Fiammetta was a driving force in letting DeMarco Murray run loose in 2011. The front office decided to let Fiammetta walk in free agency and opted to go sign free agent fullback Lawrence Vickers.
Vickers had a lot of success when be blocked for Peyton Hillis and Arian Foster. I am willing to give him a pass for his troubles in the first quarter of the season, but it's time for him to start blocking a whole lot better.
Jason Garrett isn't known for putting his players on blast in the media. Recently Garrett was asked about the play of his fullback. Instead of placing blame on Vickers, Garrett decided to support him.
"You don’t say, ‘Boy, Lawrence Vickers isn’t getting his job done. That’s why we’re not running the football,’" Garrett said. "That’s not the case at all. He needs to play better, but we all need to play better."
One idea for the Cowboys - use the passing game to mimic a running game. If you remember back in 2010, the Cowboys were in the midst of a miserable season. The offensive line was playing some terrible football, and Jason Garrett needed to do something in order to get his running game going.
Instead of calling the usual running plays, Garrett opted to get Felix Jones involved as a receiver out of the backfield. Screen and swing passes started to become a way for the Cowboys to create a running game. Felix Jones generated 48 receptions for 450 yards, averaging 9.4 yards per reception.
The last few years we have heard about the Cowboys having a screen play designed for every player in the offense. Has there really been a good screen game in Dallas the past few years? Jason Garrett needs to start implementing screen passes into his offense. It's a simple play that keeps the defense guessing, but it also generates positive yards. Of course, the offensive line has to cooperate, perhaps they're better out in space than in tight confines.
If the Cowboys begin to get consistent production from Murray, then this offense may kick it up a notch. Recently Garrett praised Murray's abilities, insisting that Murray is going to receive more opportunities to get the football and make plays.
"His patience, his persistence, his toughness have all been good," Garrett said. "He just needs to understand we’re going to keep trying to give him opportunities. He needs to keep doing what he’s supposed to do and trust the other guys that they’re going to do what they’re supposed to do, and we’ll get this running game going."
Felix obviously isn't going to come in and save the day for the Cowboys' running game. On the other hand, Murray is a very good athlete who needs to start getting the football in space. Entering the draft, scouts raved about Murray's ability as a receiver. Murray is probably better at running routes than some starting wide receivers in the NFL. He has excellent hands, is very smooth and runs precise routes. It may not be conventional, but using Murray more in the passing game may open up the running game.
If I am Jason Garrett, then I would do everything I can to get Murray the football. Using the running backs more in the short passing game may become the running game that the Cowboys need in order to keep their offense balanced.