Dallas Cowboys: In Desperate Need of a Running Game

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Dallas Cowboys: In Desperate Need of a Running Game
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Cowboys second year running back Phillip Tanner.

The headline above reads kind of like a children’s lesson on Sesame Street. Even Snuffaluffagus—yes, I Googled that—can see the basic simplicity of this glaring weakness being lugged around by the Dallas Cowboys year after year.

Play calling is obviously included, as far as weaknesses that caused both an embarrassing and heartbreaking loss to the New York Giants Sunday.

How often do you get embarrassing and heartbreaking in the same loss?

For example: The Cowboys faced a second and one following tight end Jason Witten 9-yard grab near the sideline at the Giants 19-yard line with 1:23 remaining in regulation.

The game was there to win, and with a running game it easily would have been.

But on second down, quarterback Tony Romo, with all three timeouts mind you, threw incomplete to Witten. It’s not like New York wasn’t suspicious of that!

On third down, Romo dropped back to pass again and had the time to take a shot to the end zone—to wide receivers Dez Bryant or Miles Austin, both of whom joined Witten with over 100 yards receiving?

Nope.

The pass went to third receiver Kevin Ogletree who was locked up in man coverage and incomplete.

Huh?

Ogletree stands about six feet tall and so does pretty much everyone in the New York secondary.

Stephen Brashear/Getty Images
Dallas receiver Kevin Ogletree.

In other words, this wasn’t exactly the best matchup to even think about going to as a primary option. If Ogletree ends up getting wide open then fine. But planning on Ogletree beating Giants corners Prince Amukamara or Corey Webster, both six feet tall, on the outside was not brilliant in design at all.

On fourth down came the inevitable: Another interception by Romo, who did manage to set a career high in passing yards as opposed to pics—but even that race was competitive in its own way.

But Romo's four interceptions weren't even a season high, actually.

Anyway, three consecutive passes while needing just a yard to continue what had the look and feel of a game-winning touchdown drive to both beat a division rival and sweep the defending Super Bowl champs.

We’re talking three feet here!

And because offensive coordinator Jason Garrett seems content to throw the ball some 62 times in a football game, any semblance of consistency for a Dallas rushing attack are pretty much fantasy. And this is why you can have the stats put up by all those receivers and Romo himself, but there’s nothing to show for it as far as the team and its fans are concerned.

Everyone knew going in that starting tailback DeMarco Murray would not play.

And yet Garrett came in with nothing at all as far as making sure that the Cowboys still got the yardage necessary on the ground.

It’s also understood that Dallas fell behind early in the game, a classic formula for abandoning the running game. But it’s also true that they fell behind with plenty of time to recover given that the Dallas defense forced field goals instead of allowing touchdowns in that ugly first quarter.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Dallas starting running back DeMarco Murray.

And the Cowboys actually did recover, getting the lead during the third quarter!

But Garrett’s play-calling resembled that of a guy who’s team was trailing by 30 even prior to kickoff.

Backup running back, and first-round bust, Felix Jones carried the ball 13 times on Sunday. In Garrett’s defense, at least as offensive coordinator, Jones turned in as pathetic a performance as I’ve ever seen from a back who carried the ball more than 10 times.

His longest carry was five yards and his average was—get this—1.1 yards per carry.

1.1?

And this is where Garrett, the head coach, is completely responsible.

It’s been known all season that Jones didn’t have the look of a former first round pick who is in his prime. Jones failed a physical as training camp opened and nobody has seen much of anything on the field to erase that eerie omen of just three months ago.

How does a running back fail a physical?

And yet there was Jerry Jones on his weekly radio show proclaiming that there was no way that the Cowboys would part ways with their former first round pick following a disastrous performance in Seattle on week two. Jones essentially said the idea was ridiculous.

No, 1.1 yards per carry is ridiculous.

Sadly, a young hammer by the name of Phillip Tanner played the backup role to Felix Jones in a game that only required about 70-90 yards to earn a victory. Tanner carried the ball just twice for zero yards.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Dallas running back Felix Jones.

You might recall Tanner losing his helmet on a called-back touchdown run during the preseason of 2011 at Cowboys Stadium.

Tanner runs well, he’s physical and he would have definitely played a better understudy to Murray than Jones, who seems to have no explosion at all.

And it’s not like there wasn’t evidence that Dallas could, in fact, run on the Giants. They did it on opening night at New York! I have to believe that with more than two carries Tanner would have done some damage.

Or, if he’s not good enough to contribute to an offensive game plan, then why is he on the roster?

He’s big enough, physical enough, smart enough—and gosh darn it, people like him!

The Garrett offense is a strange thing to behold.

On one hand, you have several very talented football players.

On the other hand, you have numerous project players and bargain free agents expected to contribute.

This is true of most teams in the NFL each and every year.

But when you throw in a young, aspiring football coach that has little interest in running the football you get a whole lot of losses that just didn’t have to be.

Garrett has to find a running game and fast. It’s true that the offensive line could use another upgrade or two but, overall, it’s playing much better now than in September.

Phillip Tanner loses helmet in 2011 exhibition game.

But it is Garrett’s job to play his hand as well as he can and he almost never accomplished this.

It’s one thing to throw a jump ball to a receiver who’s kind of short for that kind of thing.

But it’s entirely different when you, week in, week out, neglect the most fundamental aspect of moving the football—running it!

Remember Romo’s rushing touchdown on the bootleg in the second half?

That was a great call.

But how often does that happen with Garrett?

If, by chance, you watched Notre Dame go into Norman, Oklahoma and whip the Sooners on Saturday night, you saw another example of an offensive game plan built almost entirely around the pass.

Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones, like Romo the next day, had a silly shotgun snap sail right passed him for a significant negative play against a defense that was better than his own.

In the end, the Fighting Irish were victorious, just like the Giants were on Sunday—despite getting many fewer stats than the losing QB who had no balance on offense.

No, the Sooners didn’t turn the ball over like Dallas did, but they ran just as poorly.

Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops and Garrett could write a book about frequent flyer miles because these two simply don't travel ground!

The Dallas rushing attack, along with many other things, requires fundamental change. Until this happens, it’s going to be a long and painful road, period.  

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