The Dallas Cowboys have NEVER EVER finished with a winning record when they have failed to rush for no more than 10 rushing touchdowns (going on 12 seasons now). The best we have finished without running for more than 10 rushing touchdowns is 8-8 the past two seasons and our 7-7 campaign way back in 1965.
For a single back, 1,000 yards is the benchmark for a single season. Oh and by the way, Dallas has only had a back reach the century mark THREE times since the year 2000 (Emmitt Smith in 2000 and 2001 and Julius Jones in 2006)…three times since 2000, THAT’S IT. For the entire team then, 2,000 yards become the milestone. Just ONCE in the last 11 seasons have our ‘Boys totaled more than 2,000 yards in a single season (that being 2009 with 2,103 total yards). That season (2009) was also the last season we reached the postseason. Coincidence? Think again!
Further, from 1966-1984 (not counting the strike- shortened 1982 campaign) we failed to rush for 2,000 yards as a team and STILL finish with a winning record… only TWICE (1967 and 1984). In our 51 non-strike-shortened seasons (therefore excluding 1982 – 9 games and 1987 – 15 games) we have rushed for fewer than 2,000 yards only 27 times, only 10 of which resulted in a winning season.
Want more? Most know the Cowboys have compiled 33 winning seasons. That would then leave only 20 non-winning seasons. Well in 17 of those 20 non-winning seasons, you guessed it; we have failed to hit the 2,000 yard plateau as a team. Also, only eight times have we finished with fewer than 10 rushing touchdowns and still had a winning record. The 1,641 yards we totaled for the 1996 season is the fewest yards we have totaled in a winning season.
What does all this mean? Does it mean that rushing for over 2,000 yards as a team and scoring over 10 rushing touchdowns in a season will automatically result in a winning season? Well, no, but it would dramatically increase our chances!
So again, what will it take for our running game to convert from a glaring weakness to a formidable strength?
Well, it will take DeMarco Murray staying on the field for 16 games (which he promises will happen this season). It will take Joseph Randle learning the offense fairly quickly and thus being ready to contribute (and if need be, fill in as the starter) immediately as a rookie in 2013. It will take full-back Lawrence Vickers living up to expectations and consistently opening up holes for the running game (which is exactly what Dallas paid him to do last offseason).
It will also take not falling behind early in games, therefore abandoning the ground game. It will take running the ball MORE EFFICIENTLY and in key situations, not merely running the ball MORE. And shucks, it might even take better quality of play from the offensive line. Though I think we can all agree (and certainly pray) that there is no possible way, the offensive line can play any worse than they have the past two seasons.
Not with Bill Callahan entering his second season with the team. Not with Tyron Smith entering his second year at left tackle and third year overall in the NFL. Not with the big, burly, bearded man-child from Wisconsin, Travis Frederick manning the middle and anchoring the line. Not with Doug Free fighting for his NFL life, trying to stave off Jeremy Parnell.
Not with last year’s starting guards, Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings, staying healthy for the entire year. Not with the quality o-line depth this year including; a healthy Kevin Kowalski, a potential starter in Ronald Leary, starting RT candidate Jeremy Parnell, David Arkin perhaps receiving his last chance, a serviceable Ryan Cook, a healthy and rejuvenated Phil Costa and a up-and-coming swing tackle Darrion Weems. And most certainly not with the center position starting THREE different players in a season.
If we are to have any hope of returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2009, we will NEED a quality running game. Perhaps we will even finish will more than 10 rushing touchdowns and 2,000 combined yards like we did in 2009 (2,103 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns).
However, if we have another season rushing for a combined 1,265 yards and only eight rushing touchdowns like we did in 2012, I fear we will be sitting on the couch for a fourth straight year. If we finish on the outside of the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year, I don’t think ANYONE’S job is safe with Jerry calling the shots. Under Jerry Jones, we have only suffered one other stretch of missing the playoffs three consecutive years; perhaps you remember those brutal 5-11 campaigns from 2000-2002. I know I do, and each season felt like you dug your heart out with a spoon!
So yes, the NFL is absolutely a passing league now, but a consistent, potent, healthy ground game that is fully capable of scoring from anywhere on the field (ESPECIALLY in the red zone) is what will make THIS TEAM a playoff team again.
And let’s face it folks, the NFL is simply a better sport with the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs and contending for Super Bowls, and I seriously doubt I will find anyone that disagrees with that notion. So bring on the ground and pound!