It would be simplistic and naive to say that the Cowboys are one small fix away from transforming into a Super Bowl caliber team. Not after the disaster that was last season.
It is ridiculous to think that a team will go from a significantly underachieving disappointment to a championship contender with just a simple tweak here and a slight adjustment there. There is a lot of work to be done in Valley Ranch this summer if the Cowboys hope to improve next season.
This team's failures can simply not be traced to one single player or coach, despite the fact that many have attempted to do just that. No, this team's problems ran much deeper than that.
This team had problems with injuries, chemistry, discipline, execution, leadership, playcalling, and of course, off-the-field drama.
However, while it is uncertain what all went wrong with the Dallas Cowboys or how to fix it, there is one change that would go a long way in getting their offense back on track. It is simple really—as simple as, 1-2-3.
1) Marion Barber
2) Felix Jones
3) Tashard Choice
Put in even more simple terms, the Cowboys need to run the ball.
The Cowboys have a luxury that not many teams have. They have three stud running backs. The problem is that, last season, they did not use them correctly.
This could be in part because they did not know exactly what they had coming into the season. However, they know now, and it is time to make the necessary adjustments in their offensive philosophy.
They have an absolute beast in Marion Barber, who was having another solid season last year before suffering an injury that essentially sidelined him for the last quarter of the season. He is a tough and punishing back, and has garnered a reputation as one of the best backs in the league at getting yards after contact.
The problem is that he is accustomed to sharing the load with other backs, and last year the Cowboys tried to make him the workhorse. History has shown that he is more effective closing out games while limiting his carries. He was at his best when Julius Jones was the starter, and Barber was able to punish worn-down defenses in the latter stages of the game.
Felix Jones became a star in his short time with the Cowboys last season. Although his season would end early due to injury, he averaged 8.9 yards per carry and scored four touchdowns, three from scrimmage and another on a kick return.
Tashard Choice was another surprise for the Cowboys. As a rookie fourth-round draft pick, not much was expected from Choice last season. But after both Barber and Jones went down to injury, he delivered.
In limited playing time, the rookie rushed for 472 yards (5.1 ypc) and pulled in another 185 yards through the air. In his first game as a starter, he put up 166 total yards against the No. 1 Pittsburgh Steeler defense, a defense that was especially known for shutting down the running game.
The Cowboys have the talent in place to be an elite rushing offense when all three backs are healthy, and if they can make the adjustments to ensure that a solid running game becomes a priority, many of their other problems might just take care of themselves.
One of those perceived problems is the play of Tony Romo. The Cowboys' franchise quarterback was a rising star in the league just one year ago, but there has been some love loss from the Cowboys' faithful as of late. A stronger running attack could do wonders to help him out.
First, it would take some of the pressure off. Since he became a starter for the Cowboys, Romo has been asked to carry the offense with his arm. The Cowboys are a pass first team and every player, coach, media member, and fan knows it.
Defenses have figured the offense out, which has led to diminishing play from Romo. While he still puts up better numbers than he seems to be given credit for, he has a knack for turning the ball over.
By taking the ball out of his hands and placing it in the hands of his backs, those turnovers should decrease. One reason is that he would be throwing the ball less. However, and perhaps more importantly, by moving to a more balanced offense, his receivers should also be more open when he does throw the ball.
A running attack also does wonders for a defense. The Dallas Cowboys defense improved vastly this past year and have the potential to become a top five defense, but too often they were left in sticky situations by their offense.
Whether it was short drives that stalled out or costly turnovers, the defense was hung out to dry throughout the year. Either way, a solid running game would help. In addition to limiting turnovers, a strong rushing attack would help to shorten the game and keep the defense off the field.
It is no secret that a solid running game oftentimes equals success in the National Football League. As evidence for that claim, one needs to look no further than the top five rushing teams last year—all five made the playoffs.
It is a simple concept, but if the Cowboys can improve their rushing attack next season, then who knows what could happen. Maybe, just maybe, Cowboy fans might have reason to hope next January.