The Dallas Cowboys exhibited the melt down of all melt downs Sunday in their 31 to 30 loss against the Detroit Lions. While the defense did an outstanding job of forcing four Lions turnovers throughout the game, they allowed a morbid 623 total yards of offense. It would be easy to point all the blame at the defense who gave up two touchdowns in the final four minutes, but I believe the Cowboys late game struggles are a symptom of something else.
The Cowboys have rushed the ball for over 100 yards only one time this entire season, that being against the St. Louis Rams on September 22nd. Dallas is 26th in the league with 645 rushing yards and averaging a paltry 3.7 yards per rush attempt. Against the Lions on Sunday, the Cowboys could only muster up 62 rushing yards for a terrible 2.4 yards per rush.
Joseph Randle Stuffed by Detroit Lions: Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
When you look back on Sunday, one can see that the Cowboys defense simply could not stop Detroit from marching down the field in the final minute, but you have to ask yourself why Detroit had the ball marching the field late in the first place?
For the past several years the Cowboys have struggled to close teams out. The biggest factor in shutting teams down late is the ability to run the ball effectively when required. While the Cowboys offensive line has done a surprisingly good job protecting Quarterback Tony Romo in passing situations (allowing only 1 sack on Sunday) Dallas struggles mightily to open up holes for their running backs.
The absence of top running back Demarco Murray certainly hurts the Cowboys running game, but even still the Cowboys have not eclipsed 100 yards this season but once. This brings me back to a significant paint point for the Cowboys which is the inability to control the clock.
If you think back to Sunday, Dallas had the ball in the 4th quarter with 3:33 left in the game at their own 25 yard line after a Detroit’s Rashean Mathis pass interference penalty against Dallas WR Dez Bryant. The Cowboys at that point simply had to run the clock out and they win 27 to 24.
On first down Cowboys running back Joseph Randle runs up the middle and is tackled for a loss of three yards making it 2nd and 13. On second down, Joseph Randle attempts to run around the end and is tackled after a gain of just one yard making the down and distance 3rd and 12. Detroit wisely uses their first time out to stop the clock with 2:38 seconds remaining. Remember at the beginning of the drive, the Cowboys only had to kill a little over three minutes off the clock.
However, in two plays Dallas has managed to take less than a minute off the clock while also putting themselves in 3rd and long. The situation now dictates that the Cowboys must throw the ball and so Tony Romo throws an incomplete pass to WR Cole Beasley. Dallas is deep in its own territory, and in walks Punter Christ Jones as they turn the ball over to the Lions. This entire series took 3 plays going for four yards while draining just 1:09 off the clock.
After two additional drives the Lions drove the field, scoring a touchdown and winning the game 31 to 30. But the question is, why can’t the Cowboys drain three plus minutes off the clock? In absolutely crucial run situations, Dallas simply cannot get the yards they need.
Again, the offensive line seems to be doing a significantly better job over last year of keeping Tony Romo upright, but they fail to make a gap big enough for their running backs to squirt through on crucial downs. If the Cowboys had converted the first down in that series, they could have simply finished the game with a couple of back to back Romo kneel downs.
The ineffectiveness of the Cowboys running attack will continue to plague them until they can find a formula to run out the clock at the end of games.
Follow Matt Thornton on Twitter: @MattsCowboys
Follow Matt Thornton on FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/mattscowboys