Cowboys Running Game: Where Do They Go From Here?

Wesley Hitt

DeMarco Murray is out for at least the next game and possibly more. What does this do to the Dallas ground game?

The Dallas Cowboys won the game against the Washington Redskins, but took a double hit as starters DeMarco Murray and DeMarcus Ware both were injured.

Ware is expected to miss the first start of his career although he is still talking about possibly being ready to go. Given his history, it is hard to discount that. But it is still unlikely he will be back for the next game.

Murray is seen as certain to miss the Philadelphia Eagles game with his sprained MCL. He is not expected to be out long if you can believe reports from the Cowboys. Of course, if you do accept injury prognoses from Valley Ranch I have some excellent property in central Florida I would like to discuss selling to you.

The question now is what will the Cowboys do at running back? With Lance Dunbar still uncertain, the Cowboys are down to Joseph Randle and Phillip Tanner, neither of whom were exactly overwhelming in relief of Murray against the Redskins.

Dallas only had 48 yards rushing against Washington but that number is deceptive. A closer look at the numbers shows that the running game was actually delivering at key moments. Dallas got 15 first downs not counting penalties and seven of them were on the ground. The game plan was clearly to use Murray heavily before he went down. And on two third-and-one plays before he went out the team put the ball in his hands and he converted, as well as scoring the first touchdown of the game from the four-yard line.

Tanner only got one carry and for a good part of the game after that the team tried to ride Tony Romo's arm. He did not have the kind of performance he did against the Denver Broncos, and frankly, the team wound up being carried more by Dwayne Harris' returns and the second wind the defense got, capped by the fumble recovery by Kyle Wilber, which was more of a group performance by the replacement Rushmen. But when that fumble turned the ball over to the offense at the three, Bill Callahan was not afraid to put the ball in Randle's hands. It took two tries and a big assist from Travis Frederick (who is returning some nice dividends on that first-round choice), but Randle delivered and put seven on the board and the game in the win column.

Now Dallas has to figure out what to do. Do they go with a lot of empty formations and just have Romo air it out?

I don't think so. Remember, two touchdowns were scored on the ground. And the running game is not just about the legs and moves of the running back. It is about the blocking by the big guys up front. While the Cowboys will not be able to put as much on Randle and Tanner as they could on Murray, and still don't know if Dunbar will be able to contribute, they simply cannot afford to completely give up on running the ball. They have to depend on the line to open some lanes and whoever is lined up in the backfield has to hit them.

The numbers for Randle are a bit deceptive. He only got 17 yards on 11 carries but two of those were on the touchdown "series" and seven carries were on the last two possessions. Dallas was up by 15 points, there was only 5:08 on the clock to burn up after Orlando Scandrick snuffed Washington's last hope with his heads up interception in the end zone, and everyone in AT&T Stadium and the whole NBC viewing audience knew that the Cowboys were not going to do anything but hand the ball to Randle. It should not surprise anyone that the last six carries he had netted exactly zero yards, with everyone on the Washington defense trying to stop him and get the ball back.

Dallas will certainly have to have a better passing game than they got for much of the last game but one of the big focuses this week is going to be getting Randle and Tanner ready to step up. Not only will they have to be ready to carry the ball when needed,but they also are going to get some serious schooling on pass protection. They have to be ready to go, because a one-dimensional offense is an easier offense to stop.

Add in the fact that the coming game is for the undisputed lead in the division and this is a big load falling on a couple of backup players. Maybe they need to talk to those guys on the defensive line.

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