The running game

The Cowboys couldn't run the ball, and the Panthers seemed to run it at will. Sounds like a serious problem right? Well I'm here to argue that it's not really a big deal.

On the offensive side of things, the Panthers basically dared us to run while keeping their safeties back in attempt ( a successful one) to eliminate the explosive plays from the Dallas passing game. The result was that instead of lighting up the scoreboard with big play after big play, the Cowboys had to methodically drive the field with averaging about 5 yards per pass. That's about what you'd expect to need to do if you were relying on your running game to move down the field. You can rightfully say that if the Cowboys were gouging them with the run game, they'd be forced to bring down one of those safeties into the box opening up room for the passing game. The question would be just how effective would the run game need to be to force that decision. 5 yards per run? Probably not, as that's going to be about the same result our passing game was getting and for the Panthers, that's a win. Still forces the Cowboys to execute play after play and a failure to do so easily stalls a drive. You'd need explosive plays that would force the Panthers to risk those same explosive plays in the passing game that they were taking away by having safeties deep. Unless the running game can pick up 15 to 20 yards at a time on a regular basis, it's smarter to play to take away the explosive passes. With little in the way of a running game, and a boring, methodical passing game, the Cowboys managed to score 17 points in the first half.

On the flip side, looking at our defense. The Panthers had little resistance running the ball. Despite that, they only came away with 3 first half points. It's so difficult to sustain drives without having an effective passing game and the Cowboys aggressive pass rush was on display when the Panthers tried to throw the ball. If you are focused on stopping the run, your pass rush isn't going to be quite the same. The Panthers did have a season high 17 play TD drive to dominate the third quarter, but they were trailing, and those kinds of drives run a lot of clock, and if the game is close late, you run out of time before a drive like that can put you in the end zone.

Ultimately yards aren't going to win you football games, points will. There are certainly times running the ball well can help you win, and there are times stopping the run becomes the top priority but the majority of game situations you are going to be primarily focused on scoring points, and not giving them up. When you look around at results in the NFL, you'll see that the passing game generates more points than the running game. Once upon a time being able to run the ball and stop the run was how you won football games, but that isn't the case in the modern NFL. To win in todays NFL the keys are being able to score TD's and you'll get most of those through the air while keeping your opponents passing game from doing the same and avoiding turning the ball over.

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