Last week the Dallas Cowboys accomplished something no other team had done in 16 years. With the teams loss to the Baltimore Ravens the Cowboys became the first team since in a sixteen year span to have the ball 40+ minutes, score 29+ points and still manage to lose. This week things were going to be different with the final outcome of the game. The Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo started off the game against the Carolina Panthers completing his first nine passes for 67 yards. The Cowboys defense managed to hold a Cam Newton led Panthers team to twelve yards on seven plays during the entire first quarter all the while maintaining ball possession for just less than eleven minutes. Things seemed to be going eerily similar to last week’s Baltimore Ravens loss.
The Cowboys were running the ball well. Running behind an O-line that had their starting center, Phil Costa back and had amassed 51 yards on the ground when in the second quarter Tony Romo connects with Miles Austin for a 15 yard catch and run down the middle of the field. During the play Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis strips Miles Austin of the ball, rookie Luke Kuechly recovers the ball, and begins a return of the forced fumble. During the mayhem of a scrambling linebacker trying to elude Cowboy offensive players, now turned defensive players, and Panther players laying blocks in an attempt to clear a path the Cowboys starting center Phil Costa went down in obvious agony. Costa was carted off the field with his leg stabilized in an air cast. Phil Costa never returned to the game and later left the stadium on crutches after what was reported to be a severe ankle sprain. Apparently the Cowboys starting center’s ankle popped out of place and then popped back into place. Luckily the third year undrafted free-agent center could possibly play next week against the New York Giants but will likely be listed as doubtful.
Phil Costa prior to last week had missed three games and the difference in the run game had been evident in his absence and it became obvious yet again once he left yesterday’s match-up in Carolina that the third year Costa is absolutely vital to the Cowboys run game. In the first game of 2012 against the New York Giants Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray ran for 131 yards but Costa only played three plays as starting center and the Cowboys still managed to average 6.4 versus the Giants. In the three games after that game the Cowboys managed a paltry 154 yards on 61 carries for a 2.5 ypc average during Phil Costa’s absence. Last week in Costa’s return the Cowboys shredded the Baltimore Ravens defense for 227 rushing yards. The 227 yards on the ground had never been allowed in the history of the Ravens. Last week Phil Costa graded out as the highest rated offensive linemen for both teams and he continued his performance during the first quarter and a half against Carolina. Prior to Costa’s injury the both Phillip Tanner and Felix Jones had combined for 51 yards via the ground game. After the injury to the Dallas center on Sunday the duo of Jones and Tanner were only able to gain a meager 26 yards rushing on 15 attempts for 1.7 ypc. Simply put, when Phil Costa is in the game for the Dallas Cowboys the backfield is averaging 5.05 ypc and without the teams anchor in the middle the trio of running backs are averaging 3.5 ypc. If we subtract the first game of the season the ypc average for the Dallas backfield drops to a 2.5 ypc average.
A trend is beginning to emerge here and it doesn’t seem to be merely issues with the running back situation. Felix Jones finally appears to be in football shape after failing an early training camp conditioning test. Phillip Tanner is a tough and eager downhill runner so regardless of whether it’s DeMarco Murray, Felix Jones, or Phillip Tanner running the ball the Dallas Cowboys running game enigma seems to be answered best with a healthy dose of Phil Costa.