On Monday it was announced that Dallas Cowboys' running back Felix Jones is fully ready for the start of training camp after offseason shoulder surgery. The 2008 first-round pick has, by most degrees, not lived up to the first-round expectations he’s had placed upon him coming out of Arkansas.
Jones lost his starting job to 2011 third-round selection DeMarco Murray. Murray has had a problem staying healthy during both his college and pro careers. Despite missing the last four games due to injury, Murray amassed 897 yards as a rookie.
Murray’s coming out party came against the Rams, in which he ran for 253 yards on 25 carries. His game was the most yards by any Cowboy back, surpassing Emmitt Smith’s 237 yards against the Eagles in 1993.
What does all this mean?
Simply put, if the Cowboys want to make the Super Bowl, they need to rely on the one-two punch of Jones and Murray and not their air attack. Jones and Murray combined for 1,472 yards in 2011.
Dallas has relied on Romo to play Favre-esque and run around until he makes a play. The faulty thinking in that is three-fold this year:
1) The offensive line still has massive question marks at both guard positions. Increasing the drop backs is more likely to leave Romo out for the year—like what happened two years ago.
2) Dallas does not have a known quantity at the third WR position. Losing Laurent Robinson makes it vital that a rookie or second-year player steps up. Does Jason Garrett really want to roll the dice in the hopes that he strikes gold again? Also compounding the problem is that Jason Witten is on the downside of his career.
3) Already short of a third receiver and an aging Witten, Dallas can ill-afford to put its eggs in the baskets of an often-injured Miles Austin and an irresponsible Dez Bryant. It’s more than likely the Cowboys will play at least four or more games without one or both, based off of both player's histories.
While it may not be as pretty as watching Aaron Rodgers light up secondaries, relying on a ground game is certain going to help keep Romo off of his back. It also prevents the “bad Romo” from showing up, as fans saw against the Jets and Lions.
Relying on a strong running game paired with a much-improved secondary will have Dallas in contention for the NFC Championship.