Darren McFadden’s 1,000-yard season has been virtually worthless
Despite rushing for what is certain to be over 1,000 yards in 2015, Darren McFadden has added little substance to the Dallas Cowboys’ offense.
For only the second time in his 8-year NFL career, Dallas Cowboys’ running back Darren McFadden will break the 1,000 yards rushing mark once he gains a mere three yards in the season finale. The 1,000-yard mark has long been the standard used to determine a quality season from a running back but McFadden’s 1,000-yard season in 2015 must be considered one of the least impactful of such campaigns in Cowboys’ history.
To say that Cowboys’ fans have been spoiled at the running back position is like saying George Clooney has been spoiled at the girlfriend position. The franchise that has featured running backs like Tony Dorsett, Emmitt Smith, Hershel Walker, Calvin Hill and DeMarco Murray has come to expect production from the running back as a God-given right.
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After letting Murray leave to join the Philadelphia Eagles after 2014, Dallas expected to plug a mediocre running back into the offense and continue to have a dominant ground game behind the so-called best offensive line in football. Although McFadden is poised to join the Dallas Cowboys’ 1,000-yard rusher club, his numbers have been hollow.
First of all, consider the fact that McFadden has been almost a non-factor in the four wins Dallas has on the season. The only victory in which McFadden eclipsed 100 yards rushing was against Miami when McFadden went for 129 yards.
In the Dallas Cowboys’ wins, McFadden has averaged a pedestrian 57.3 yards per game. Take away the big game in Miami and that average drops to 33.3 yards per game. McFadden has totaled only 100 yards combined in the three other Dallas wins.
On the other hand, in the 10 Dallas Cowboys’ losses, McFadden has averaged 77.8 yards per game. Of McFadden’s five games of 100-plus yards this year, Dallas is 1-4.
So why is the standard NFL correlation between strong rushing numbers and wins not adding up for Dallas in 2015? There are multiple reasons that McFadden’s yards have been ineffective.
First off is his lack of touchdowns. Hall of Fame head coach Bill Parcells used to believe that every 100 yards of offense should equal seven points on the board. By that logic, a player with 1,000 yards rushing should have around 10 touchdowns on the season.
This year, McFadden has found the end zone only three times. Dallas has struggled in the red zone this year ranking last in the NFL at a 41.5% touchdown rate. Link
In 2014, Dallas scored a touchdown on 65% of its red zone possessions. Furthermore, last season Dallas scored 16 rushing touchdowns compared to only 8 in 2015.
McFadden is the type of rusher that excels outside the red zone but his speed is neutralized once the team nears the end zone where there is less room to run and defenses can pack defenders near the line of scrimmage.
Also, McFadden’s lack of size prevents him from gaining the tough yards necessary inside the opponent’s 10-yard-line meaning that the offensive line must open sizable holes against loaded defensive fronts in order for him to reach pay dirt.
Another reason that McFadden’s 1,000-yard season has been hollow is the fact that he seems to have lost a step. Now 28-years-old, McFadden has not been able to break a long touchdown run this year.
The former Arkansas Razorback has built a reputation as a speed back but this year his speed seems to be more of a burst in the first 20 yards of a run rather than top end sprinting speed to outrun defenders in the open field. Perhaps McFadden’s workload (a career-high 227 carries) has caused him to slow down or maybe the numerous leg injuries he has suffered throughout his career have finally taken their toll.
Whatever the reason, McFadden has not been able to take his longest runs all the way setting his team up in the red zone where the Cowboys more often than not, stall out and settle for a field goal.
The final reason that his yards have been meaningless is that McFadden has been far less effective in the 4th quarter of close games.
For the season, McFadden has averaged a strong 4.4 yards per carry but in the 4th quarter of games within seven points he has seen his average drop to 3.8 yards per carry. Dallas has lost six games this year by seven points or less and unlike 2014, the Cowboys’ run game has not been able to ground out a win.
Therefore, the Cowboys have had to put these games in the hands of backup quarterbacks Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore all of whom were unable to deliver in the clutch.
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With an impotent passing game in 2015 due to injuries to starting quarterback Tony Romo and star wide receiver Dez Bryant, the Cowboys’ only hope for success was its ground game. And while Darren McFadden is certain to surpass 1,000 yards rushing this year, those yards have had almost no impact on the Cowboys’ offense.
The record books will show that McFadden had a good 2015 season but the reality on the field has been much different. Dallas must upgrade at this position if it hopes to return to the playoffs in 2016.