On the surface, the Cowboys have generally had a productive offense under Jason Garrett. 2011 was an off-year for him, but they still placed a respectable 12th in terms of yards. While the season rushing total was slightly below league average in yards gained, many fans were excited about the emergence of Demarco Murray and the resurrection of the fullback position.
Demarco Murray has some great stats considering how few games he played last year, but there is one in particular that should give everyone pause: Murray's TD total. Murray was 26th in total carries on the season, but 40th in TD's scored with only 2 TD's.
Think about that. During the peak of the Cowboys running game last year, with the most exciting back we've had in years, this running back only managed to score 2 TD's. To put that in perspective, John Beck, who only appeared in 4 games as a QB for the Washington Redskins, scored 2 rushing TD's last year.
Clearly the Cowboys need a little more help than a healthy Demarco Murray if they want to turn rushing production into points.
What's wrong with the Cowboy's rushing game? Many fans can tell you that they didn't feel too confident about running the ball when the Cowboys approached a 3rd and short or a 3rd and goal inside the 5. This gut instinct is played out by the stats.
Using Football Outsider's Power Success metric (runs on 3rd/4th down and goal to go situations) we can see that the Cowboys short yardage running game was ranked 23rd in the NFL last year. According the guru's at FO (and my humble eyeball estimations), success in short yardage situations can generally be attributed to the offensive line.
Enter Bill Callahan. He might be one of the least talked about off-season additions to the Dallas Cowboys this year, but I think he may be key to the Cowboys enjoying more success in 2012.
Why am I so interested in an assistant coach? Because his job is to shore up one of the biggest holes of the team: the offensive line. In terms of personell, the Cowboys have made a lot of changes, but it's questionable to many whether or not these changes are actually upgrades. Callahan, was the one "addition" to the offensive line that can clearly be considered an upgrade.
Let's take a look at the New York Jets rushing game when Callahan was tasked with the offensive line responsibilities: 2008-2011. 2007 is included as comparison to show what Callahan was inheriting.
NY Jets Power Success Ranking
2007: 31st (pre-Callahan)
Callahan's unit jumped 6 spots the first year he arrived and then settled down on the top 10 for the next 3 years.
Now for comparison, let's take a look at the Garrett era Cowboys.
Dallas Cowboys Power Success Ranking
By all accounts the Cowboy's power running game has been virtually non-existent for the last 3 seasons. In case you had to wonder, now you know why Garrett calls so many passing plays. You can also bet that if the Defense isn't afraid of your running game, passing plays are going to be harder to run and your overall scoring is going to suffer.
Of course the power running game is not going to score points on its own. The team first has to traverse the length of the field to get in a goal-to-go situation. But given Garrett's history of producing yards, it's safe to say the Cowboys are going to get their share of opportunities this year. It's going to be up to the Callahan and the offensive line to make the most of those opportunities. Keep an eye on the short yardage situations in the first quarter this pre-season and you might get a hint of what's to come.