Dallas Cowboys: Barber, Choice Or Jones: Which Running Back Saves The Season?
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Based on NFL statistics, none of the top ten running backs by yards this season are involved in a running back by committee offense. In fact, 6 are averaging 20 attempts or more per game (Foster (HOU), McFadden (OAK), Peterson (MIN), Mendenhall (PIT), Johnson (TEN) & Jackson (STL)). Four that aren't are Hightower (ARI), Bradshaw (NYG), McCoy (PHI) and Gore (SF).
The Cardinals and Giants were blown out and abandoned the run in Week 2. McCoy is in the Eagles - a screen pass is like a run - system, and Gore just missed the mark at 18.5 attempts per game. So this bodes the question - Can you have success running the ball with a two back system?
I happen to believe the answer is yes because the next spots are held by committee running backs: #11 - Brown (MIA), #12 - Charles (KC), #13 - Tomlinson (NYJ) & #14 - Addai (IND).
Let's look at two back tandems this season while paying attention to each players average number of attempts per game - (Average Attempts Per Game - Total Yards - Average Yards Per Carry). The number before the players name is their current rank based on total yards.
Dolphins - #11 - Brown (13 - 145 - 5.6) / #29 - Williams (14 - 92 - 3.3) - Attempts Difference - 1
Jets - #13 - Tomlinson (11 - 138 - 6.3) / #37(t) - Greene (10 - 70 - 3.5) - Attempts Difference - 1
Cowboys - #37(t) - Barber (9.5 - 70 - 3.5) / #47 - Jones (7.5 - 45 - 3.0) - Attempts Difference - 2
Browns - #32 - Harrison (12.5 - 85 - 3.4) / #36 - Hillis (8.5 - 76 - 4.5) - Attempts Difference - 4
Chiefs - #12 - Charles (11 - 141 - 6.4) / #19 - Jones (16.5 - 122 - 3.7) - Attempts Difference - 5.5
Colts - #14 - Addai (15 - 136 - 4.5) / #39 - Brown (8 - 69 - 4.3) - Attempts Difference - 7
Panthers - #23 - Williams (16.5 - 116 - 3.5) / #42 - Stewart (6.5 - 55 - 4.2) - Attempts Difference - 10
* - Cowboys : Choice (3 - 17 - 2.8)
This chart shows that it's possible to have success and balance with two running backs. The Dolphins and Jets top running backs are separated by one carry. The Cowboys separated by two. The problem is the number of rushing attempts and performance.
Based on rushing yards, the Chiefs have the best rushing tandem with a combined average rating of 16.5, followed by the Dolphins (20), Jets (25), Colts (26.5), Panthers (32.5), Browns (34) and Cowboys (42).
Felix Jones' numbers are the worst on the chart, being the lowest in rushing yards and average yards per carry. Stewart (CAR) has one less rushing attempt per game, but has a higher average. The Cowboys aren't doing their running backs any favors by having the lowest number of attempts (17), but they are only a few 3rd and 15 draw plays away from the Jets and Browns. The Chiefs lead with 27.5 rushing attempts per game, followed by the Dolphins (27), Colts and Panthers (23), and the Jets & Browns (21).
For the Cowboys running back by committee to work, it doesn't matter if the carries are separated by 1 or 10, the players need opportunities. Cowboys need to reduce Romo's throwing attempts (98 in two games) and make sure that at least one running back has 15 or more carries per game. It doesn't matter who's on the offensive line because run blocking is often about attitude. Take the person in front of you and smash him in the mouth. Pass blocking and blitz pickup require three or four guys working together.
Who gets the touches? In 2009, Marion Barber had one game with 20 attempts and ended the game with 99 yards. In 2008, he had 4 games with carries of (28, 23, 25 & 24) and ended with a total of 411 yards - an average of 102.75 yards per game.
In 2009, Felix Jones had a career high - 15 rushing attempts in the season finale against the Eagles getting 91 yards - an average of 6.1 yards per carry. As a side note, I have to mention that Barber got 14 attempts for 91 yards and 6.5 yards per carry as the Cowboys won 24-0. Felix Jones definitely has home run potential but he's never been a running back to carry the load. Even in Arkansas, he shared running back duties with Darren McFadden. In 2007, his last year as a Razorback, his highest amount of rushing attempts in a single game that season was 17. In 2005 and 2006, it was 14.
Tashard Choice is a very capable running back who should be given a chance to get more than 5 rushing attempts per game. In 2009, there were two games where he had double digit carries. In weeks 3, 4 & 5 he had 18 carries for 82 yards, 14 carries for 33 yards and 8 carries for 92 yards. In the last 5 weeks of 2008, Choice had 73 carries for 383 yards for an average of 14.6 attempts and 76.6 yards per game.
With the current roster, the Cowboys need to determine if Felix Jones can handle 20+ rushing attempts per game and if he could sustain that workload for an entire season. This is a major question that needs to be answered before the Cowboys enter next season debating to cut or trade one of their running backs.
Based on the numbers, it would be wise for the Cowboys to start Felix Jones and make him an every down running back running both between and outside the tackles. Tashard Choice should relieve Jones between the 20's and Barber with Gronkowski handling short yardage and red zone situations.
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