The arguments have been had on both sides of the spectrum, but the fact remains that the Dallas Cowboys were successful in 2014 in a large part due to their run-first method. Tony Romo saw his first 1,000+ yard rusher and it made the entire team better while also taking pressure off the quarterback. In order for the Cowboys to be right back where they left off, it starts with this running game.
As reviewed ad nauseum, the Cowboys don't necessarily have to replace the 1,845 yard season that DeMarco Murray had but rather the ability to have a sustainable rushing attack. You can't be certain by looking at this depth chart that Dallas already has this in waiting.
The news is especially not good when you factor in that Darren McFadden will begin training camp on PUP. Sure, he's only expected to be out a week, but this is the rub, there is always something. Joseph Randle is saying all the right things but is anyone really sure he has what it takes to be the lead back? These Dallas Cowboys need a contingency plan and the likes of Lache Seastrunk and Gus Johnson aren't exactly prime candidates.
This is not to say that Dallas should go after guys like Steven Jackson or Chris Johnson, but the Cowboys need a back with dynamic potential. It's the biggest question mark on the team, but it feels like the scene out of Big Daddy where Adam Sandler places newspaper over the spills to cover it up.
This position is just too important to the Cowboys' playoff success to throw newspaper on. Look at the teams the Cowboys are likely to have to face in order to stay at the top of the NFC. The Seattle Seahawks have the very best running back in the NFL with Marshawn Lynch, the Green Bay Packers will be better with the help of Eddie Lacy. Teams that are in the Super Bowl are finding ways to get the running backs involved. You can argue that the Patriots won this past Super Bowl on the arm of Tom Brady, but the Seahawks were one halfback dive away from back-to-back Lombardi's. The importance of the running back is different for each team, but in the NFC race, it's pretty important.
The Cowboys have found their winning formula and their current stable sits out like a sore thumb right now. That is not to say that Randle or McFadden can't become the legitimate lead back, but it's time to create some stiff competition. Look around the league and you can find some teams that have a surplus of running backs. The Cowboys are currently being smart, it is the first week of training camp after all, but expect the short list of trade candidates to be brought out on Stephen Jones' hotel room desk soon enough.
The trust in this offensive line is as strong as ever but they can't be the sole entity to carry this entire running game. Where the Cowboys will miss DeMarco Murray is those "dirty yards" as Jason Garrett calls it. Murray was certainly a complete back though he only played one full season without injury. Both McFadden and Randle have home run abilities that Murray didn't possess but he converted first downs when asked to. That's the worry here; can these backs pick up where Murray left off?
Of course we have to give them the chance to win the job outright, but trepidation is warranted. Randle was given the opportunity before and wasn't as effective. According to PFF, the offensive line was ranked third with a +59.1 run blocking rating that season. The following year they added All-Pro Zack Martin and that vaulted them to second place but their rating actually dropped to +54.2.
As for McFadden, his narrative is pretty simple. He's had one really productive season in 2010 where he had 1,134 yards and seven rushing touchdowns. Other than that he's declined with each coming year. Last season, PFF ranked him 53 of 57 running backs. His 3.4 yards per carry were among the worst in the league, meanwhile his counterpart Latavius Murray ranked 5th in the NFL with a 5.2 average. Now that McFadden is starting on the PUP list should just add more concern here even if it's only temporary.
To not draft a running back was not a deal-breaker, but this is such an important time for the Cowboys. They are close. When you are close, you have to do your best to ensure there isn't a weak link. The Cowboys' running game was not a weak link last season and it frankly can't afford to be one this year.
Sooner or later, the front office will be faced with a decision. If McFadden continues to get nicked up, he's not going to be much help. Everyone loves the relief guy that comes in and dazzles his way into the end zone, but this team needs more from Randle. The Cowboys must start looking at the alternative because it's naive to think that they are sitting pretty at the moment.