What Happened to the Dallas Cowboys Run Game on Sunday?


The Cowboys are one of the NFL’s worst rushing offenses, averaging only 75 yards on the ground per game.  But recently, Dallas’ rushing attack has been absolutely awful. They totaled just 98 rushing yards in the last two outings. Yet somehow, the Cowboys were able to beat the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday and should have won last week if not for a last second touchdown drive by the Detroit Lions. The team is having success abandoning the run, but should they keep doing so?

Too often people look at the stats after the game and see that the Cowboys ran the ball only 9 times for 36 yards and conclude that the Cowboys abandoned their running game because they just love to throw the ball. But in all reality, they couldn’t run the ball successfully at all and gave up on the run because it didn’t work early in the game. I believe that the coaching staff got startled when a few early running plays lost yardage. Here’s what I mean;

Here are the 9 rushes that the Dallas Cowboys had on Sunday:

  1. 1st and 10 from DAL 21: DeMarco Murray runs for – 2 yards.
  2. 1st and 10 from DAL 47: DeMarco Murray runs for a gain of 27 yards.
  3. 2nd and 10 from MIN 26: Joseph Randle runs for a gain of 3 yards.
  4. 1st and 10 from DAL 20: Lance Dunbar runs for -3 yards.
  5. 3rd and 1 from 50: DeMarco Murray runs for 6 yards.
  6. 2nd and 5 from DAL 31: Lance Dunbar runs for 2 yards.
  7. 3rd and 1 from DAL 29: DeMarco Murray runs for no gain.
  8. 3rd and 6 from MIN 37: Tony Romo runs for a gain of 8 yards.
  9. 2nd and 10 from MIN 29: Lance Dunbar runs for -5 yards.

Excluding Tony Romo’s scramble for 8 yards, the Cowboys ran for no gain or lost yardage on 50% of their runs. Whenever you run the ball and there is a 50% chance that you won’t gain anything, you are putting your offense into a big hole. The Cowboys gained 3 or fewer yards on 75% of their runs on Sunday.

So the question is, how do you fix the Dallas Cowboys’ running game? Many believe that more touches for the running backs will help improve their average. While that MIGHT be true, does that help the Dallas Cowboys win the football game? The Cowboys are not built like the Seattle Seahawks where you can run the ball 30-35 times a game and win because your defense is holding the opposition’s offense down. Right now the Cowboys offense is afraid to punt the ball  Offenses against the Cowboys’ defense are moving the ball up and down the field and controlling the time of possession.

What needs to happen for the Cowboys’ running game is for it to show consistency and efficiency. While a DeMarco Murray 27 yard run is nice, the following two runs gain them a net total of zero yards. Essentially, the Cowboys gave up on two plays that went nowhere.

The Cowboys need a reliable run game, but maybe not for the reasons you might expect. The Cowboys don’t need their run game to be dominant or to take over games. Instead, they need a run game to help Tony Romo and the offensive line. The Cowboys have been blitzed heavily the last few weeks mainly due to the lack of a running game. Teams aren’t afraid of the Dallas backs and are sending extra defenders at Tony Romo and the Cowboys’ offense has suffered because of it.

How do the Cowboys fix their running game? Here are a few thoughts and suggestions. Stop running DeMarco Murray on zone stretches. I know this is a staple of the zone run game, but Murray doesn’t have the feel or vision to do well on these plays. Lance Dunbar seems to read the blockers and the cutback lanes better than Murray. However,DeMarco Murray does seem to have success running downhill out of the pistol formation. The team can’t seem to run screens with Murray either. I actually think this is where Randle and Dunbar thrive. I suggested a few weeks ago that the Cowboys should use Dwayne Harris out of the backfield like the Packers have done with Randall Cobb.

The Dallas Cowboys are one of four teams that has a 66% or more Pass/Run ratio and they are currently the only team that has a winning record of the four. Passing this many times in a game and winning isn’t a repeatable formula to win. The Cowboys need to find a way to fix their running game and not be quite so afraid of a few negative runs, even if it means wasting a few plays.