Dallas Cowboys: Will adding Allen Hurns help the running game?
Dallas Cowboys’ legends Michael Irvin and Troy Aikman kept defenses honest for Emmitt Smith. Will Dak Prescott with Allen Hurns make life easier for Ezekiel Elliott?
During a recent debate about NFL running backs, the topic shifted to the Dallas Cowboys offensive lines. Where should the credit for a successful running game go? As soon as I mentioned Hall of Fame and NFL all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith, I heard three things. First, Smith had the luxury of running behind one of the NFL’s greatest offensive lines.
With the Cowboys from 1990 – 2004, Emmitt Smith averaged 4.2 yard per carry and 5.3 in his best year (1993). In 1995, Smith led the NFL with 1,773 rushing yards. It’s one of the few years that the team with the leading rusher won the Super Bowl.
According to Pro Football Reference, Smith’s offensive line consisted of: Mark Tuinei (35), Nate Newton (34), Ray Donaldson (37), Larry Allen (24), Erik Williams (27). Smith averaged 4.7 yards per carry and none of his offensive linemen were first round draft picks. Tuinei and Newton were undrafted. Donaldson and Allen were second round picks and Williams was a 3rd round selection.
If you mention Smith, then someone is going to scream – “What about Barry Sanders?”. That’s number two in the running back debate. Watching Barry Sanders highlights, it looks as if he was doing everything by himself.
In 1994, one year before Smith, Sanders was the NFL’s leading rusher with 1,883 yards. His offensive line had three 2nd round draft picks – Dave Lutz, Doug Widell, Kevin Glover. A first round pick in Lomas Brown and a ninth round pick Shawn Bouwens.
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Now the Cowboys are fortunate to have Ezekiel Elliott. I believe that Elliott is a threat to be one of the best running backs in NFL history. Elliott is a pure runner like Sanders and inherited an offensive line better than Smith or Sanders ever had. Elliott and the offensive line is good enough in our world where backup offensive tackle is major news because of Tyron Smith‘s injuries.
In Elliott’s absence during the 2017 season, running backs Alfred Morris averaged 4.8 yards per carry and Rod Smith averaged 4.2 yards per carry. Neither of them are as talented as Elliott. That’s why, this is another year that I don’t want to see any offensive linemen drafted by the Dallas Cowboys.
The third point mentioned during running back debates is the help that Smith had on his team. The Cowboys’ running game was more effective because of his pair of Hall of Fame teammates: quarterback Troy Aikman and wide receiver Michael Irvin. That meant defensive teams couldn’t focus exclusively on the running game.
I know that he’s gone, but wide receiver Dez Bryant scared defenses. His best years were obviously with quarterback Tony Romo. In Bryant’s defense, it’s hard to post huge stats when: you’ve been injured, the team has decided to run the football more and your quarterbacks are Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel.
Don’t blame Kellen Moore. Moore recognized the blitz against the New York Jets and threw Bryant a touchdown against cornerback Darrelle Revis. They only played half a game together. Yes, I’m a Kellen Moore fan.
If you believe in point number three, then this preseason, the Cowboys need to showcase quarterback Dak Prescott and receiver Allen Hurns early and often. Otherwise, Elliott will face defenses stuffing men in the box while leaving receivers in man coverage. Defenses will dare Prescott to beat them with his arm and that didn’t happen last season – even with Bryant.
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So, that’s what I believe Cowboy Nation should watch this season. With Allen Hurns seemingly replacing Dez Bryant on the outside, the question is – Will Dak Prescott improve in his third-year and form a connection with Hurns that makes Ezekiel Elliott’s life on the field easier?