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The Cowboys And Balance

The Dallas running game of late seems to be a candidate for a missing poster. Is this a real issue, or just another distraction?

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

In winning against the Minnesota Vikings last week, the Dallas Cowboys set a franchise record for fewest rushing attempts per game with a measly nine (and one of those was a Tony Romo scramble). This has led to another discussion of whether the offensive play calling is now dooming the team to failure.

There is little doubt that this is a result that involves the three major players in how the Cowboys attack the opposing defense: Head coach Jason Garrett, offensive coordinator and play-caller Bill Callahan and quarterback Romo all have a hand in what is happening. Garrett continues to pay a certain amount of lip service to the idea of having more balance in the attack, and has been saying much the same thing all season. But this signal-caller is not at all concerned with any outside calls for balance.

"If you're just thinking, ‘Boy, we better get to 15 runs, 20 runs, just to make sure that we appease everybody, that's just silly," Romo said. "I think what you find is we won that football game last week. We're moving on to the next one. Maybe you only throw it 17 times the next week, maybe you only throw it 25 times, or whatever, so it varies."

This is a topic that Bryan Broaddus at has been hammering all week, and he is clearly on Romo's side here. In Friday's Talking Cowboys podcast, he got fairly worked up about it, and used some points he also wrote about at the mothership in the column on keys to the upcoming New Orleans Saints game.

Against the Vikings on Thursday night, the Redskins were perfectly balance run-pass but lost the game. Stanford ran the ball 66 times against Oregon with only 13 passes, is that balance? No it isn't, but the result allowed them to win the game. To win games, you do what you have to do to get that result. Against the Saints, the Cowboys need to focus on what they do best in that game. If throwing the ball 50 times is what is needed, so be it. If running the ball 50 times is needed, so be it as well.

Frankly, I would hope the focus for Dallas is on winning the game with whatever mix of plays will do the job. KD has a post up about how the Cowboys have tried to make sure that Romo cut down on his interception total from last season. His view was that it seems to be working. The Denver Broncos game is the only one this season where a Romo interception has really played a role in the outcome, and that was a very abnormal game in many ways.

Romo, in the article I linked to above, points to what happened against the Detroit Lions as one reason why he is not at all hesitant to get away from the run.

"I think what you find is in Detroit, we tried running it a lot on second down," Romo said. "We were losing yards. Well, if you're in second-and-4 and then you're in third-and-8, I don't know that that's winning football, no matter how you slice it."

As a result, he is not at all hesitant to audible away from a running play. And it should not come as a surprise to anyone. Romo no doubt believes the best chance the Cowboys have of winning the game is when he is throwing the ball. And when he and the rest of the offense are all doing their job, he is right. Bob Sturm broke down the 90 yard drive to the winning touchdown against the Vikings, which was nine consecutive pass plays. With the exception of one drop, it was close to perfect offensive football.

Spread em out and slice em up. Where was this all day? They went into S01 for the entire drive which left Romo with an empty backfield and then worked it like a charm. That is a 2-minute drill to frame and remember.

That S01 refers to a four wide receiver, one tight end personnel package, and Romo in the shotgun. It is the most effective personnel grouping and alignment this season for the Cowboys. When they needed it the most, the team made it work and got a victory over a team that beat the Washington Redskins their next game.

There is a very good argument to be made for trying to run the ball against New Orleans, and I am sure the Cowboys will give it a shot. If it works, they may even stick with it. But with Drew Brees throwing to Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles, the game can easily become a shootout, and you don't bring a grind it out running attack to a shootout and expect to win.

The Saints are not likely to do much on the ground. In yards per game, they are 26th in the league - just ahead of Dallas. Brees is going to want to put this game on his arm, just like Romo. Now, if the Cowboys are able to find a softness in the Saints' defense and get some good runs, they should keep that in the mix - if for nothing more than to make play-action more effective. But they also should keep that S01 package in heavy rotation and see if they can attack Rob Ryan's defense as successfully as other teams attacked it when he was with Dallas.

Frankly, I think Romo throwing the ball is the best chance the Cowboys have to win this game. And they have a very real chance. New Orleans has lost two of its last three games. They are not invincible. The prevailing opinion is that the best way to stop their offense is to pressure Brees, and the return of DeMarcus Ware looks to be a big factor in this game. (On a related note, it looks like the Ernie Sims experiment is over, and I think putting Bruce Carter back with the ones is a good thing.)

But the biggest factor for Dallas is the passing attack. The team needs to get it going well, the receivers need to get back to catching almost everything, and Romo needs to be the guy he was in the closing minutes against Minnesota. If the run is there, pound it. But the priority must be to find what will win the game, and my bet is that passing the ball is going to be what gives the Cowboys the best chance.


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