Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. He must have been watching the Dallas Cowboys’ running game when he said it. Felix Jones’ inability to produce yardage in the first two games of the regular season has many fans scratching their heads. Especially, after his stellar preseason.
Jones looked stronger than ever during training camp and throughout the preseason. Most observers agreed he was running with a power and strength they hadn’t seen since his rookie year. His preseason totals included 15 carries for 96 yards and one touchdown in limited play. Still, it was enough for many experts to pin this as Jones’ breakout year.
Then the regular season started and out trots that old Felix Jones. In his first regular season game against the Jets, Jones managed 44 yards on 17 carries and a one yard touchdown run. But many fans were left wondering what happened to the bruising runner they saw just a few weeks earlier? What happened to the moves? The speed? It’s like someone went back in time and swapped our breakout star for last year’s slower model.
Things took a turn for the worse for Jones on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. Early in the first quarter, Jones separated his shoulder. He played through the injury but only recorded 25 yards on 9 carries. His longest run of the day was for five yards. The other running backs didn’t fair any better as the Cowboys were playing from behind the entire game.
The biggest red flag that our running game needs a “kick in the tail” took place late in the fourth quarter. On a critical 3rd and 2, on the 49ers 28 yard line, Head Coach Jason Garrett elected to run the ball with Miles Austin. Let me repeat this point again: Down by 3 points, and in order to get a first down to secure a closer field goal attempt for our rookie kicker, Coach Garrett elects to pitch the ball to Miles Austin to get those two yards. That says everything you need to know about the current confidence level in our running game. Needless to say, Austin got stuffed in the backfield, fumbled the ball, and injured his hamstring all in that one play.
Is there any doubt that Frank Gore’s number would have been called if San Francisco was in that same position? That’s what we’re missing in the backfield.
Obviously, Jones is the scapegoat here. There are many factors leading to why Dallas’ running game is struggling. One of the main ones is the young offensive line. Their inability to make running lanes for Jones results in a lot of those two yard scampers.
Another point a lot of fans are making is the Jones isn’t a starting running back. Felix started his career as a complementary or “change of pace” back to starter Marion Barber. And some fans believe this is his overall best role on the team.
If this is true, who would make a better starting running back for the Cowboys? The obvious choice is Choice. Tashard has the experience and a proven track record. Rookies DeMarco Murray and Phillip Tanner both have potential but we really haven’t seen enough from them to warrant the starting job. If Choice is a better fit as the starter, when might we expect Dallas pull the trigger?
It may be sooner, than later. Jones’ shoulder injury has the potential to keep him out of next week’s game against the Redskins. If so, this could be the opportunity Choice has been waiting for. If he can outperform Jones, the starting job should be his. If not, it might be time to roll the dice with one of these rookie running backs. But no matter what, Miles Austin better just stick to receiving from now on.