Although Dallas Cowboys running backs Joseph Randle and Ryan Williams appeared to run hard in last week’s preseason matchup with the San Diego Chargers, the duo combined for only 79 rushing yards on 21 carries—3.76 yards per carry. We saw some good and bad things from both runners, but their performances reinforce the need for both DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar.
Let’s take a look at the good and bad from both Randle and Williams in Week 1.
If you read my stuff, you know I’m not a fan of Joseph Randle’s game because he’s lean and doesn’t have great speed, which is a lethal combination for a running back. He might have versatility to catch the ball out of the backfield, but without the requisite explosiveness to shine in the NFL, he’s going to have trouble sustaining long-term success.
To give you an example of Randle’s lack of burst, let’s break down an early 2nd-and-6 play the Cowboys ran on Thursday. The team was lined up in a version of “Tight End Trips Right,” with Randle being the only player in the backfield.
The play was a dive to the left side of the formation, and the Cowboys actually blocked it fairly well. As Randle scooted through the hole, he really just had to outrace the linebacker and he would have been off to the races.
He was unable to do that, getting grabbed at the ankles and eventually brought down short of the sticks. He gained five yards on the play, but this is an example of where Randle’s lack of speed has the potential to hurt Dallas.
Randle had some impressive runs though, too.
On a 2nd-and-10, the Cowboys lined up in “Double Tight Left Ace,” with Randle again being the sole back in the backfield.
The play was not blocked well, and Randle had the choice to either run where it was designed—into traffic—or bounce outside into the arms of a waiting defender. He chose to bounce the run.
By the time he was making his cut on the outside, a defender was in perfect position to bring Randle to the ground.
The running back made a nice move and immediately got upfield. Without great explosiveness, this is something Randle will need to do—make one cut and immediately move north and south to gain yards. He has some moves and it’s not like he can’t possibly string together some nice runs, but he needs to be used in the right situations to hide his deficiencies.
Randle ended the game with 50 yards on 13 carries—3.85 yards per carry.
Like Randle, Williams showed both well and poorly on certain runs. His worst run of the night came out of “Tight End Trips Right.”
Running a dive behind the left guard, Williams decided to bounce the play outside. The play was set up for Williams to get outside. The only defender that appeared to have leverage on the play was actually adequately locked up by the left tackle. Nonetheless, Williams ended up getting tackled for a minimal gain on the play.
Williams’ best run was on a 1st-and-10 out of a true “Ace” formation.
Running a stretch play to the left side of the formation, it initially appeared as though Williams would be running into a lot of traffic. The cornerback on that side in particular wasn’t blocked effectively.
Still, Williams turned on the jets and burst up the field before being touched, nearly gaining a first down. This is a play that I think Randle would have had a tough time making.
Williams finished the game with 29 yards on eight rushes, good for 3.63 yards per carry.
Randle/Williams’ Strengths and Weaknesses
Given how much Randle played before Williams got into the game, I think we’re justified in believing that Randle has the inside track to the No. 3 running back job. He obviously struggles in terms of his frame and overall explosiveness, which are probably things that can’t be easily fixed. However, Randle can catch the ball out of the backfield and has much better vision than Williams.
Williams has some burst, but he doesn’t always appear to make the right choices on his cuts. I think his athleticism gives him more long-term upside than Randle, but there are some cons with Williams. When a play is blocked to gain five yards, Randle will more consistently get those five yards. Williams will occasionally break free to get a whole lot more though, which exemplifies the difference between the runners.
Both Randle and Williams are currently miles behind DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar, however, both of whom possess the needed explosiveness and pass-catching ability to make big plays on a more consistent basis. Although the Cowboys need to excel with the pass this year, Murray and Dunbar are important pieces on offense—particularly Murray in pass protection—that the Cowboys need to keep healthy.