Dallas Cowboys: Is the rushing game still king?

Jun 14, 2016; Irving, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) runs with the ball during minicamp at Dallas Cowboys Headquarters. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 14, 2016; Irving, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) runs with the ball during minicamp at Dallas Cowboys Headquarters. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

Does running the football effectively still matter when it comes to winning games in the NFL and will it help the Dallas Cowboys win in 2016?

My ground breaking research last week helped reveal to Cowboy Nation that championships weren’t won with great defenses. Of course, many only read that headline and their minds exploded while rushing to the comment section to explain my flawed theory. Spoiler alert: The article concludes that it wasn’t great offenses, defenses or a balanced team with but turnovers that wins championships.

That article sparked a conversation with my friend Chris Masters about the New Orleans Saints aka “the anomaly”. Chris said the most interesting statistic about the Saints was their rushing play percentage. My limited memory believes that Drew Brees killed defenses with his arm.

Checking the numbers, the Saints finished 7th in rushing attempts, 6th in rushing yards, 3rd in rushing touchdowns. While finishing 1st in points, yards and passing touchdowns, they were only 15th in passing attempts. Perhaps I overlooked a small detail – In the world of the air attack is the rushing game still king?

In 2015, the Denver Broncos were a defensive powerhouse ranking 1st in six categories but just average offensively. The Carolina Panthers reached the Super Bowl by ranking 1st in points scored, interceptions, rushing attempts, rushing touchdowns and turnovers.

They were a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the ball. Unfortunately for the Panthers, Cam Newton isn’t the great Tony Romo or it would’ve ruined Peyton Manning‘s story book ending.

In 2014, the Seattle Seahawks had a dominating defense. They had a top five ranking in every defensive category except turnovers. Offensively, they were last in passing attempts but second in rushing attempts and first in rushing yards and touchdowns.

I have no clue how the New England Patriots reached and won the big game as they were statistically completely mediocre. Had that been ruled a catch by Dez Bryant, I’m sure we would’ve torched the Patriots.

In 2013, Seattle featured a top ranked defense and rushing attack. In 2012, the San Francisco 49’ers featured the 2nd best defense and the 3rd best yards per rushing attempt average. In 2011, the Patriots reached the Super Bowl with a spread offense and a horrific defense.

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In 2010, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost with the best overall defense and 12th ranked offense. The Steelers lost to the Green Bay Packers who had the second best defense and the 10th ranked offense.

After the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl in 2009, rushing the ball went out of vogue. Like many, the passing game gets our attention and stays in our memory. Because this is a copycat league, general managers remember Drew Brees’ season, but not the running back (Pierre Thomas).

I do believe that running the football effectively matters. Multiple teams have reached the Super Bowl with a top ranked defense featuring turnovers and a rushing game. We can thank the Seattle Seahawks for bringing back a combination of defense and a ground and pound running game.

The Cowboys offensive balance – led by a healthy Tony Romo – will keep defenses on their toes. It’s possible the offense may rank as average due to a balanced run / pass play ratio. It’s one of those occasions where numbers fail to tell the whole story.

The Cowboys dominant offense could force other teams to make mistakes to catch-up. Dallas’ defense may not appear to dominate teams due to a bend but don’t break philosophy. The defense just needs to take advantage of turnover opportunities.

Which is more important – the offense or defense? I don’t think there’s an answer to this question because it’s a yin and yang synergy. Defense getting turnovers helps the offense and long offensive scoring drives helps the defense.

When the Cowboys raise Lombardi #6, it won’t belong to the offense, defense or special teams. It’ll be raised by a team.


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