Felix Jones Injury: Dallas Cowboys Lose Starter, but Could Gain Running Game

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Felix Jones Injury: Dallas Cowboys Lose Starter, but Could Gain Running Game
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Phillip Tanner loses helmet in pre-season game.

Five games into the 2011 NFL regular season and it remains a fact that Dallas can’t run the football.

Outside of Felix Jones’ breakout second half against Washington in the home opener, the Cowboys have shown very little ability to run the ball effectively. That narrow victory over the Redskins saw the only 100-yard performance by a Dallas running back this season.

And how many running backs do they have?

Okay, so maybe the problem isn’t as much the running backs themselves but rather the offensive line?

Hmm.

You will never confuse me with a Jason Garrett supporter, especially post-2007 when we knew that Garrett could fail to make critical adjustments in postseason situations.

I also agree that Tony Romo has to take better care of the football, an issue he's wrestled with since becoming the franchise quarterback in '06.

But I have been asking this question for several years and I’m tired of not getting an answer. The question is this: Where’s the running game?

Perhaps we are about to find out.

Starting left guard Bill Nagy was injured during Sunday’s loss against New England and so was starting running back Felix Jones; the former out for the rest of the season with a broken ankle.

Dallas Cowboys need this kind of attitude in the backfield.

So what to do?

I say you get better.

  • Week 1: 26 attempts for 64 yards, 2.5 yards per carry.
  • Week 2: 22 attempts for 45 yards, 2.0 yards per carry.
  • Week 3: 26 attempts for 125 yards, 4.8 yards per carry.
  • Week 4: 27 attempts for 113 yards, 4.2 yards per carry.
  • Week 5: 24 attempts for 77 yards, 3.2 yards per carry.

These totals on the ground obviously won’t get it done, but the attempts are more than respectable. In the NFL you need a minimum of 20 carries for a decent shot in games, depending on unfortunate variable such as turnovers or penalties. But at 25 rushing attempts, you should win better than 85 percent of the time.

The issue here is that Dallas’ young and smallish offensive line just gets no push at the line of scrimmage. This is no shocker given the fact that right guard Kyle Kosier is, for some reason, still wearing a blue star on his helmet.

Nagy is just another small guard and in the absence of the massive Leonard Davis, released before training camp, there is nobody to generate a push between the tackles.

Derrick Dockery represents the best fix, at least if you believe the Cowboys plan to run the football more effectively. While I have faulted Garrett’s play-calling for years, especially in the run department, the numbers clearly show he is trying, but it just doesn’t work.

Dockery has the experience and size, if healthy, to bust some holes in the middle of opponents' defensive lines. He may not help immediately, but if he stays healthy and gets the playing time he deserves, yards per carry should go up.

Now, with Jones out for probably a month with a high ankle sprain, the Cowboys have a real opportunity to learn something about their roster of running backs.

With the NFL trading deadline today (Tuesday), I don’t look for Tashard Choice to be traded unless there really is something already in the works. Knowing that Choice is not an upgrade over Jones or backup DeMarco Murray, is it not time to give the ball to Phillip Tanner?

Tanner is the guy who lost his helmet on a would-be touchdown run against San Diego during the preseason. Obviously the play was called dead, but upon further review, it’s clear that neither Tanner nor the Chargers defensive quit on the play.

It matters little that those preseason points did not count. What does count is that Tanner runs with a physicality that the Dallas rushing attack—if you want to call it that—lacks.

Losing Jones hurts, but luckily there’s still another brittle niche back like Murray to run Garrett’s silly college spread offense. But if Garrett is serious about keeping his job, then it would be wise to start figuring out how to finally get yards on the ground.

Now is as good a time as any.

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