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Dallas Cowboys: Waiting On The Running Game

Felix Jones has not had much success.
Felix Jones has not had much success.

The Dallas Cowboys have had a lot of positive things happen this year. The pass rush is starting to look awesome, led by DeMarcus Ware; and the defense as a whole is further along than many (like me) expected, Sean Lee is apparently the real deal. Miles Austin has had a monster game, Jason Witten is still pretty much Jason Witten. Jesse Holley has shown he can be a weapon, and of course Tony Romo has given new meaning to the words guts and determination.

Not everything has gone so well, of course. Injuries just keep coming. And then there is the running game.

Or maybe it is more accurate to discuss the lack of a running game. The latest stats have the Cowboys 30th in the league in rushing yards, with a paltry 54.5 yards a game. That is a sad figure, especially on a team that is so potent through the air, ranked second in the league at 376.5 yds/gm.

What exactly is going on? Is this a deliberate choice, or are there some problems for the team that may come back to haunt them? I don't know the truth, but I do think I have an idea of what is going on. And I am a fan, so of course I think I can suggest a solution.

More . . .

Prior to the start of the season, there were two Dallas players getting mentioned in a lot of articles as having potential for breakout seasons, Dez Bryant and Felix Jones. Dez certainly showed his potential in the first game, but Felix has been largely ineffective. His backups, Tashard Choice and DeMarco Murray, have also been less than impressive.

There have been several possible reasons offered for the impotence of the Dallas ground game. Many of these are covered in KD's article earlier today. One is, in the first two weeks, the team was up against two very good run defenses in the New York Jets and the San Francisco 49ers. Well, that theory was pretty much blown to smithereens by the Oakland Raiders, who put up 234 rushing yards against the Jets, or 61% of the total offense in their 34-24 win. I would say that is pretty good evidence that the Jets can be run on.

So that leaves two basic theories. One is that Dallas just does not have the personnel to successfully run the ball. The other is that running is just not a priority.

Not having the ability to run the ball is basically something that cannot be fixed. The running backs wouldn't appear to be the problem. Felix and Tashard have both had success in the past. Now, the newly rebuilt offensive line would seem much more capable than the aging line of the past few seasons. A more mobile and faster set of blockers should benefit the running game. So far, that hasn't come to fruition.

Another possibility is that the running game has just not been a priority for Jason Garrett. This is not at all hard to believe. Garrett has long shown a preference for the passing attack. And when your offense is ranked fourth overall in terms of yardage, maybe you don't feel a lot of urgency to change things.

I do think the lack of a ground attack is largely caused by the coaching decisions that JG is making. I do think he does not feel that a strong running game is all that important, and he can use short passes involving his running backs just as effectively.

I don't think that is such a good idea. I have two reasons.

Tony Romo lost the ball trying to go in from the three yard line against the Jets, and what was looking like a surprisingly easy Cowboys victory turned into a bitter, frustrating defense. One of the reasons this happened was the lack of a Dallas rushing option that could pound the ball in with three chances from the three. This is not a new issue. For the past couple of seasons, ever since Marion Barber lost that ability to get a yard or two, Dallas has lacked a short-yardage, smash-mouth running game. And it was the start of the loss in New York. That alone would indicate this needs to be changed.

The second reason also centers around Tony. More specifically, his ribs. And the rest of his body. I don't like to contemplate losing him for an extended period this year, and he is not getting any younger. One of the advantages of an effective running game is that it keeps the opposing defense honest and forces them to back off a little, which will keep your signal caller from getting the snot beat out of him. Even if you can use swing passes and screens to substitute for runs, they still lead to hits on the quarterback. Screens actually can increase the number of hits, since the onrushing defenders are allowed through to set the screen up, and the quarterback often has to hold the ball until the last second to let the play set itself up.

It would make a lot more sense to have a running game that the other team has to account for. Dallas has perhaps not been in a good situation to work on establishing the run with the way the first two games played out, and now Felix is nursing a sore shoulder. But it just seems to me that the team needs to get someone untracked. The team signed fullback Tony Fiammetta, who was not active last week. The word was that he had not had a chance to learn the playbook. He should be ready now. It is time to get him into the lineup, and to go after the Washington Redskins front seven and get some running established. As KD pointed out in his post earlier this afternoon on the O line, the Redskins are ranked 32nd in run defense, and fourth in pass defense. This may be the game to establish something on the ground.

Hopefully, that is what Jason Garrett is thinking this week, and he plans to get some more production out of running the ball. Get at least one of the backs going, and perhaps give Phillip Tanner a look in short yardage situations. I don't think the Cowboys have nearly as good a chance of winning this game or the rest of them if the offense is one dimensional.

It's just my suggestion, of course.

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