The conference championship games are set in what many are expecting to be a high-scoring weekend. And why shouldn’t it be with the four highest-scoring teams during the regular season being the last teams standing. The high-powered Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Rams, and New Orleans Saints all averaged over 30 points on the season with the lowly New England Patriot bringing up the rear with 27.2 points a game. Of course,that Patriots team just put up 41 points against a very good Los Angeles Chargers defense. Suffice it to say, those guys in New England have been known to score some points.
Unfortunately, the Dallas Cowboys aren’t one of they top scoring teams this year. They will spend the offseason trying to rectify some of their offensive struggles. Whether that consists of coaching changes, scheme changes, or adding new play-makers to the mix - the hope is that something new and refreshing is coming.
While searching for the next best thing is good, you don’t have to look very hard to see a familiar recipe for success on offense. There are some commonalities among these four remaining teams that might be of interest to Cowboys fans - an effective secondary running back.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Bill Belichick’s Patriots are the epitome of team play. They got role players all over the place. While they invested a first-round pick to select rookie Sony Michel, they still find plenty of touches for the electric James White. In the Patriots rout over the Chargers, Michel had 24 rushes for 129 yards and three touchdowns, but While added 15 catches for 97 yards. That’s a pretty nice dynamic duo.
Speaking of dynamic duos...
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Alvin Kamara has emerged as the clear star back in New Orleans, but that doesn’t mean the team doesn’t utilize Mark Ingram. Despite missing the first four games due to a suspension, Ingram still managed to gain over 800 total scrimmage yards. The two-time Pro Bowler is one of the most talented backup running backs in the league, making the Kamara/Ingram duo a big problem for defenses.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
The Chiefs employ a primary back to handle the workload. The workload numbers would be even less balanced had it not been the release of Kareem Hunt, who the Chiefs parted ways with after a domestic violence incident. But there are still a couple things that stick out about their backs. First, all of them are pass-catchers. If you don’t posses that trait, you won’t fit with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ pass happy offense. Second, none of the backups skipped a beat once Hunt was sent packing. Even when Spencer Ware got hurt, Damien Williams was plugged into the offense as if nothing had changed.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
The Rams are another team that rely heavily on one guy. Had Todd Gurley not missed games late in the season, this ratio would look very similar to the Cowboys. But again, the efficiency of this group is very good. Even in small doses, the Rams backup running backs can get the job done. You don’t have to tell Cowboys fans about how much C.J. Anderson helped the team. The Rams were able to run all over Dallas and it didn’t matter if it was Gurley or Anderson running the ball. Both running backs were kept fresh the entire game.
For Dallas, it was Zeke, Zeke, and more Zeke. And as the season wore own, you could really see the 23-year old running back start to tire out. During the first two seasons, Elliott had that extra burst of speed. He had at least one 60+ touchdown in 2016 and 2017, but his longest this season was a 41-yard run. There were times this year where Elliott was getting caught from behind and these things weren’t happening before. Elliott goes hard all the time and the extra work would tire anyone out. How many times this season did we see him wave over to the sideline asking to be taken out? Or how many times did we see him limp over to the sideline with a nagging injury?
And the problem for Dallas is that the Cowboys are a different team when Elliott comes out of the game. Rod Smith’s yards per touch is the lowest of all these players listed by a full yard.
Another thing that sticks out is the fact that Tavon Austin’s yards per touch blows everyone else away. Granted, eight of his 14 touches came as a receiver and a big 64-yard touchdown against the New York Giants in Week 2 skews his average, but it’s hard to understand why the Cowboys didn’t use him more.
It’s worked in the past
While teams don’t have to employ a full-blown running back by committee strategy, successful teams find a way to utilize multiple players. Just look at the last few Super Bowl Champions:
LaGarrette Blount shows up twice on this list as he’s been the leading rushing on each of the last two Super Bowl teams, but he’s had a handful of partners in the backfield helping carry the rock. And there’s that C.J. Anderson guy again as he played a key role during the Denver Broncos Super Bowl season in 2015.
What does this all mean?
This is not to say that the Cowboys should change up their Elliott workhorse-back strategy. The offense should still run through Zeke. But that doesn’t mean the team shouldn’t look for ways to become even better on offense. The idea that Tavon Austin was going to be used quite a bit was an unfulfilled promise from Stephen Jones. Maybe something will change next season.
The Cowboys could always look for a dynamic pass-catching running back in the draft. The team has plenty of dancing chips in the draft to be able to grab a talented collegiate running back. Dak Prescott loves checking down and no player had more receiving targets on this team than Elliott. Why not spread some of that love around to a new guy who can be dangerous in space? The offense can always use more play-makers and as we’ve seen in the past, teams that have gotten more from their running back group have been hoisting the Lombardi up in February.