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The VRR: Can the Cowboys Regain their Balance Against the Redskins?

The first time the Cowboys hosted an NFC East rival in their new stadium, the offense featured a devastating rushing attack that mixed both power and speed. Marion Barber ran 18 times for 124 yards and a score. Felix Jones averaged 13.7 yards on seven carries and picked up a score of his own. Tashard Choice didn't have a big game, but you could tell the coaches were trying to get him involved. Typically, that's how many of us imagined the Dallas ground game producing for the rest of the year.

Much has changed since that Week Two game against the Giants. It all began with a strained quad, and then a sprained knee, a fractured thumb. But it was okay. Miles Austin saved the day, and then Tony Romo got hot. Their success has helped make up for the fact that the Cowboys no longer lead the league in rushing.

Choice has maintained his injury bug repellent, and the team is still ranked 8th in rushing - averaging 130 YPG. That's great, but the worry is that the rushing YPG is slipping every week. The worry is that the Dallas offense is growing unbalanced. The worry is that too many passing plays draw more hits on the quarterback, and can effectively lose the time of possession battle. Losing that can wear out a defense.

Shouldn't it be the Cowboys' offense doing that to opposing defenses this back half of the season?

More VRR after the jump.

Last season, in a loss to the Redskins, the Cowboys' RBs had 8 carries. Last week, in a loss against the Packers, they had 11. What does offensive coordinator, Jason Garrett, have to say about this?

Garrett said it was because of "game circumstance," mentioning that the Cowboys trailed by three scores with 10 minutes remaining in the game. But the Cowboys abandoned the run after the first quarter, when Marion Barber had four carries for 27 yards.

Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers told reporters after the game that Green Bay, which sacked Tony Romo five times, could blitz aggressively because the Cowboys were so one-dimensional.

"You don’t want to be one-dimensional in anything you do," said Garrett, whose offense has run pass plays 62.7 percent of the time this season, including sacks and Romo scrambles.

"You don’t want to just be an inside running team. You don’t just want to be an outside running team. You don’t just want to be a dropback team. You want to be able to move the quarterback, you want to be able to run the ball, play-action, drop back. "The more you can do, the harder it is on the defense. At the same time, you need to have an identity. Identity is important, too. You don’t want to be all things to all people, but you want to be good at a lot of different things."

Clarence Hill takes the opposite approach to the Cowboys' lack of rushing attempts: the running game has simply been ineffective.

Their running attempts and yards have a diminished dramatically since the start of the season. That is a more of a product of Marion Barber and Felix Jones being injured. Neither has had the same burst since returning to the lineup. Barber missed one game. Jones missed two. Barber has started to look more like his old self of late.

But Jones looks uncomfortable and tentative. He has not been a game-breaking threat. Consider that he has had only two runs longer than 10 yards the last four games since returning from the sprained knee and they were just 12 and 11 yards each. He has not had a run longer than four yards against the Eagles and Packers the past two weeks.

Jones needs to be game-breaking good for the Cowboys to be truly special on offense. He hasn’t been that lately.

Barber didn't get much of a chance to perform...apparently because of his thumb.

Running back Marion Barber saw his time limited against the Packers because of problems with a fractured left thumb that was causing him trouble on pass protection at Green Bay. Barber had four carries in the first half for 26 yards, but he carried it just one time for minus-1 yard in the second half. The Cowboys went with Tashard Choice because he could handle the blitz pickups.

"We use Marion because he's such a dominant blocker," coach Wade Phillips said, "but he was having problems so we took him out."

If Barber can't get the job done in pass protection, the coaches are more apt to go with Choice rather than Felix.

When Barber's broken left thumb prevented him from blocking effectively in the second half Sunday, the Cowboys turned to Choice to protect Romo.

"He is a better pass protector than Felix, and he picks up the blitzes better," Phillips said of Choice. Hamstring and toe injuries forced Jones to miss 10 games last season, time he could have used honing his blocking skills.

"He's just not as adept at it yet," Phillips said. "(Choice) knows his assignments well and does a good job of blocking."

We may have seen a decrease in handoffs, but we have seen an increase in the "Razorback" lately.

According to Stats & Information, the Cowboys are fifth in the league in terms of Wildcat plays with seven. Tashard Choice had a touchdown run out of the Wildcat against the Eagles in Week 8.

The Cowboys will need to run the ball against the Redskins. They are first in the league in pass defense, giving up an average of just 162.7 YPG.

Romo will be facing the top-ranked passing defense in the league as well as one of the NFL's most improved pass rushes. The Redskins had 24 sacks last season to tie for the third-worst mark in the league, and have already matched that total. Linebacker Brian Orakpo, the No. 13 overall draft pick, leads all rookies with seven sacks and veteran Andre Carter has eight. Last season, the Redskins failed to sack Romo.

"Last year I felt we had some QBs feel very comfortable in the pocket," coach Jim Zorn said. "And this year we are making quarterbacks uncomfortable in the pocket."

That pass rush could be even more potent with Doug Free expected to make his first career start Sunday at right tackle for Dallas in place of Mark Colombo, who had started 57 consecutive games. Colombo had surgery after he broke his left leg and suffered ligament damage in his ankle against Green Bay.

Look for DE Andre Carter and rookie Brian Orakpo to again spearhead the Redskins' pass rush.

Orakpo already set a club record for sacks in a season by a rookie with seven, three more than any other rookie in the league.

With 15 sacks between them, Carter and Orakpo rank as the No. 3 tandem in the league behind the Colts' Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis (17.5) and the Vikings' Jared Allen and Kevin Williams (17).

"That's what they drafted me for, to make big plays," Orakpo said. "[Andre's] a guy I've looked up to and admired. That's what keeps great pass rushers hungry and able to improve - it's competing. You don't ever want one guy doing all the workload."

Andre Gurode has no ill-feelings about the 2006 game when Albert Haynesworth stomped on his face. The violent injury necessitated 30 stitches along with plastic surgery.

"It's good that he moved passed it. I moved passed it," said Gurode, a Pro Bowl pick the past three seasons. "He is a great player."

Haynesworth calls Gurode "one of the best centers in the game. ... He has good movement. He is big. He is strong."

Gurode opted against filing criminal charges against Haynesworth, who publicly and privately apologized to Gurode in the days after the October 2006 game in Nashville. Now that they will be on the field together again, Gurode knows there will be plenty of reminders of what happened, from the questions being asked to the video replays sure to be on TV.

"I expected when he signed with the Redskins and we played them that it was going to be brought up," Gurode said. "It's something in the past and you can't let what happened in the past define who you are today."

Haynesworth (ankle) may be questionable for Sunday's game. RB Clinton Portis (concussion) will not play.

Bob Cohn asks if Portis' best football is behind him.

But a decline would not be unprecedented or unexpected because Portis' durability and ruggedness might be catching up to him. Going into the season, only four active runners had more career carries. All of them - Edgerrin James, LaDainian Tomlinson, Fred Taylor and Jamal Lewis - have seen better days.

You may have read earlier that Doug Free will get the start at RT for Marc Colombo. The new face on the first-team defense was also announced today. Alan Ball has been named the starter at FS for the injured Ken Hamlin.

Coach Phillips makes it sound like Ball can "ball".

"He's so aggressive," Phillips said. "I mean we've seen him on special teams and he's very aggressive. And he tackles well. He's not a big guy but he tackles well. It's a concern. Their running game is a concern because they have a strong running game. They had 174 yards last week against Denver, who we know can play the run pretty well."

Special teams dynamo, David Buehler, did not practice today because of a pinky toe injury. Todd Archer said that Buehler was "limping noticeably".

Some of the Cowboys have begun the holiday season by helping to serve Thanksgiving dinner at the Dallas Salvation Army homeless center.

SB Nation's power rankings dropped the Cowboys just two spots - from 7 to 9.

Where has Jason Witten gone this year? While Romo still targets him plenty, Witten's yards per catch are at a career low, and he's been a non-factor at the goal-line. With teams keying in on Miles Austin and Roy Williams generally hit-or-miss, the Cowboys will need more from Witten if they're going to develop some offensive consistency. (And losing RT Marc Colombo to injury won't help either)

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