Frustrating. Confusing. Annoying. These are just some of the words that I muttered to myself while watching the Dallas Cowboys offense. The same things that have hurt the Cowboys in the past reared its ugly head again on Sunday. The lack of a running game and the failure to continue to do what has been successful helped the Kansas City Chiefs squeak out a one point victory on Sunday in Arrowhead. Jason Garrett was quoted on Monday as saying that the team needs to run the ball more in order to win. Unfortunately, I don’t believe they will be able to do that anytime soon.
We heard all summer long that the Cowboys wanted to return to a more balanced offense with Bill Callahan calling plays. That’s not going to happen for a while. Dallas ran the ball 16 times and they threw it 42 times. Tony Romo dropped back to pass 49 times Sunday and the team failed to even attempt a running play in the fourth quarter in a close game.
And yet, somehow I can’t blame them for abandoning the run. 2.3 yards per carry is beyond bad. This running game has been ugly these last two games and for that matter, since the beginning of last season. Whether or not you believe that DeMarco Murray is an elite back (I don’t and have written about it this summer) you would have to agree that he has been ineffective to start the year. Murray now has 32 carries for 111 yards. 3.4 yards per carry. That is awful. But yet, people still want the Cowboys to run with Murray and his 2.1 yards per carry? What makes you feel confident that this is the ingredient to winning?
There is this common belief that if the Cowboys were to give Murray more touches then he will raise that yards per carry average and eventually pile up the yardage. That isn’t the case with DeMarco Murray. In Murray’s last 16 starts, he received 17 carries or more 8 different times. Of those 8 times, he has only run for 100 yards once. His respective yards per carry in those 8 games are as follows; 2.9, 4.0, 6.6, 2.1, 3.6, 2.5, 4.5, 4.3. Simple elementary math would teach that the 6.6 YPC (against the Giants in 2012) data point was an outlier or an anomaly compared to the rest. Murray’s average YPC in games that he receives 17 or more carries is 3.80.
Another excuse for Murray is that his blocking hasn’t been good and that’s the main reason he has struggled. That hasn’t really been the case so far this season. The team continually opened holes for Murray on Sunday, but the third year back out of Oklahoma lacked the vision and quickness to see and get to the open lane. Murray’s greatest success as a running back has come when he played behind a fullback that can read the blockers for him and all Murray needed to do was to follow his full back. With the two tight end offense Dallas employs, Murray is asked to do that himself and he is struggling.
So what is the solution to achieve more balance on offense? The answer is simpler than you might think. DeMarco Murray needs to play better and run more efficiently when he is asked to carry the ball. Does he need more than 12 carries? Probably. Does the team need him to run the ball 25-30 times to be successful? No. The Cowboys need a more efficient running game, not necessarily more quantity of the same running game. There is a big difference.
The Cowboys did take my advice from last week and found better ways to get Dez Bryant involved early. Bryant had four catches for 100 yards and a score in the first quarter of the game. But after that Bryant had only 30 yards receiving in the second half. Bryant did drop a pass that would have been a big play, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of use in the second half.
The most frustrating part about Dez Bryant and his usage in the Chiefs game was that Kansas City never changed their game plan. The Chiefs left Brandon Flowers one-on-one with Bryant, yet the Cowboys refused to look for Bryant on a consistent basis after enormous success in the first quarter(4 catches for 100 yards and a TD). That drives me up a wall. Make the Chiefs show you that they can stop something before you go away from it. The best (or worst depending on how you look at it) example of this was the series where the Cowboys had the ball inide the 10 yard line with Bryant lined up against Flowers with no safety help. That should have been an automatic throw to Bryant for a score. The Cowboys ended up settling for a field goal, leaving four points on the board. When you ultimately lose a game by one point, those are the kinds of mistakes that can haunt your season.
The Cowboys were the better team on the field Sunday, but mistakes like these are what costs them games, year after year. We will see if they can correct their running game Sunday when the Cowboys take on the St Louis Rams and if they finally decide to to look Dez Bryant’s way for an entire game.