Because the Dallas Cowboys have been guilty of a football felony by ignoring a good running game for much if not all of Jason Garrett's tenure as head coach, they've often struggled to generate enough carries to keep one running back satisfied, let alone two.
But this year is supposed to be different, because Garrett, Jerry Jones and Scott Linehan have all suggested that they'll be re-emphasizing the ground game. And with a stellar offensive line featuring three recent first-round picks paving the way for guys like DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar, they'd be crazy not to keep the aging, somewhat fragile Tony Romo fresh by mixing in plenty of handoffs.
Notice we mentioned both Murray and Dunbar. That's because it appears the Cowboys are indeed going to go with something resembling a backfield committee in 2014, which is a golden idea.
Don't get us wrong—Murray alone is great. One of the best. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry last season, which ranked first in the NFL among backs with at least 150 attempts. And as a ball-carrier, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) graded him as the sixth-best back in football. He also scored 10 touchdowns in 14 games and caught 53 passes in 2013, losing just one fumble on 270 touches.
|NFL yards-per-attempt leaders, 2013|
|1. DeMarco Murray||5.2|
|2. LeSean McCoy||5.1|
|3. Jamaal Charles||5.0|
|4. LeGarrette Blount||5.0|
|5. C.J. Spiller||4.6|
|Min. 150 carries (Pro Football Reference)|
At the age of 26 and entering his fourth season, he could be primed to break out in a major way.
But Murray has already missed 11 games and parts of others during his three-year career due to various injuries, and he's yet to make it through a full season. There's little reason to believe that, with a full load, things will change in 2014.
|DeMarco Murray's injuries|
|Broken right ankle||Dec., 2011||Missed final 3 games|
|Injured left foot||Oct., 2012||Missed 6 games|
|Sprained left knee||Oct., 2013||Missed 2 games|
And that's why Murray might have to sacrifice cumulative stats in order to stay strong throughout the year. His rate-based stats (yards per carry, for example) are more important. We're talking quality over quantity.
Dunbar is even younger, and thus fresher, and coming off a sophomore season in which he averaged an impressive 5.0 yards per carry (albeit on a tiny sample size of 30 attempts). Before suffering a season-ending knee injury last November, the 24-year-old was tearing it up with 102 yards on 15 carries over a two-game stretch, twice busting free for 18-plus yards.
Dunbar has only experienced 144 regular-season NFL snaps, but the Cowboys cherish the North Texas product so much right now that he was among the healthy scratches for last week's preseason opener. They're already thinking about preserving the guy.
"Certainly we have a good feel for what he can do," Garrett said of the decision to hold Dunbar out, per ESPN.com's Todd Archer. “We just want to be selective with certain guys in preseason. DeMarco Murray did not play in the game. We felt the same way about Dunbar."
Archer concluded that "the Cowboys believe Dunbar will be a big part of their offense," and that's now impossible to dispute.
However, like Murray, Dunbar is no stranger to the trainers room. In addition to that left knee injury, he dealt with a strained right hamstring and a sprained left foot last season. He's only 5'8" and 195 pounds, so he probably has to serve as a change-of-pace guy at this level.
And that's why these two could become one hell of a duo from the get-go in 2014, which could pay off in a big way come December and January.