Is your money on the chicken? Or the egg? Do the Cowboys' pathetic rushing numbers reflect a lack of play-calling commitment? Or can Dallas simply not run the ball? Is Jason Garrett "chicken"? Or has he accurately concluded that the offense gets "egg" all over its collective face any time it tries to muscle up?
The answer, of course, is "yes."
First the facts. The Cowboys rank 29th in NFL rushing at 69.5 yards per game. This, despite the near consensus that Dallas as the best three-man stable of running backs in the league. So, Cowboy jury members, here are your options: Either 1) those backs are over-rated or under-performing, 2) the Dallas aging and dinged-up offensive line is punchless, 3) Garrett isn't smart enough to run it enough, or...4) the Princeton-educated Garrett is plenty smart enough to see that his running game stinks and that his best option is to give Tony Romo as many chances as possible to get the ball to his talented receivers.
Chicken? Or egg? Or a chicken omelette?
Play calling and statistics, obviously, are influenced by the flow of a given game. For example, the Houston Texans rank second in the league in rushing defense, allowing only 31 yards per game. Why? Well, for one thing, they're pretty good. But the biggest reason is that their first two opponents haven't tried to run the ball. Houston got up on the Colts quickly in the opener, forcing Peyton Manning into a career high in pass attempts. And in Week Two in D.C., 'Skins QB Donovan McNabb threw for over 400 yards against the Texans in an overtime shootout. That didn't leave room for a lot of running snaps.
So is it possible that the Dallas offensive rushing numbers have been similarly limited by game flow and conditions?
Sorry. That dog won't hunt.. Through two weeks, the Cowboys have run the ball 42 times. The opener in Washington was tight throughout, ultimately decided by only six points. It was the style of game that not only permitted a commitment to the ground game, but virtually demanded it. Still, Dallas called just 22 runs. Last Sunday at home against the Bears, Marion Barber got off to a solid start with five carries for 27 yards, including consecutive gains of seven, seven and eight. But from there, Barber got just four more carries, netting six yards. Sure, Dallas had to throw on virtually every down late in the game. But facing only a three point deficit through most of the third period, Garrett called just five runs in the quarter.
In two games, Garrett has for the most part not been forced to abandon the run. He has chosen to do so, throwing passes 70% of the time. Yes, the NFL is now a passing league, but that 70-30 ratio is way too lopsided, given the closeness of both games. But Garrett is neither blind nor stupid. He sees a Marion Barber who is not the Raging Bull he was two years ago. He sees a bulked-up Felix Jones who has lost some speed and quickness, perhaps contributing to his seven carry, seven yard performance vs. Chicago. (Garrett apparently doesn't see Tashard Choice, but that's another topic for another time.) He sees an elderly offensive line that is throwing rods, not to mention body parts.
Maybe...maybe....Garrett sees an ugly truth.
Chicken? Or egg? The running game can't improve until Garrett calls more runs, but he probably feels he can't call more runs until the running game improves.
Here's the flip side of the omelette. While Dallas through two weeks has a total of 139 rushing yards, the Cowboy D has permitted even fewer (127). If both the Cowboys and Texans find themselves with no running game Sunday at Reliant, I'd have to think the advantage would go to Dallas. Tony Romo is used to a one-dimensional attack. Surely Matt Schaub would be more severely hampered if Arian Foster becomes a non-factor.