Dallas Cowboys

Where will the Dallas Cowboys find the key to unleashing the running game?

The Dallas Cowboys continue to refuse their inability to run the football is a result of any specific area of the offense

By Matthew Postins of  Postinspostcards.com

Dallas Cowboys Insider

Everyone agrees on the problem. But when it comes to the Dallas Cowboys ground game, solutions are as plentiful as they are elusive.

Is it DeMarco Murray? Is it the offensive line? Is it the play-calling? Is it the opponent?

If the Cowboys have a clue, they’re not letting on. Head coach Jason Garrett’s mantra on Wednesday was typical of how Garrett deals with these issues – it’s never just one thing.

“We evaluate the run game together, so to make one comment to say why it hasn’t been as good as it is it’s not an accurate way to approach it,” Garrett said. “You look at specific plays and what happened. We evaluate what we ask them to do, if they’re capable of doing it and then the execution.”

It was Garrett’s way of not blaming anyone for the fact that the Cowboys gained just 37 rushing yards against Kansas City last week. It was also his way of not blaming anyone for the fact that the Cowboys are ranked No. 27 in rushing through two weeks of the season, less than a year after the Cowboys ranked No. 31 in total rushing.

An overreaction? Probably a little bit at this early stage of the season.

Legitimate concern? Absolutely.

“It all starts up front in the trenches,” Murray told the media earlier this week. “Our offensive line has to control the game. Our defensive line has to control the game. It only helps this team. It only helps the play-action. It only helps the passing game. The running game has to start with myself, and we have to have more opportunities to do that.”

The Cowboys are averaging 62.0 yards per game on the ground. They are also one of nine teams that haven’t scored a rushing touchdown so far this season. One of the others is the St. Louis Rams, who come to Dallas on Sunday.

Things may not be much better this weekend, as the Rams enter the game with the NFL’s No. 6 run defense, allowing just 61 yards per game.  This is not the same defense Murray torched for a franchise-record 253 yards in 2011.

The Cowboys definitely have not found the offensive balance they craved entering this season. Through two games Dallas has thrown the ball at a ratio of 2.5 to 1, meaning quarterback Tony Romo has been quite busy. He acknowledged on Wednesday that there has been times in the first two games of this season in which he has checked out of run plays and into pass plays. Romo said that defenses have sought to take away the run, leaving favorable matchups in the passing game.

“It’d be silly to run it when you can’t block an extra guy,” Romo said. “It’s a part of the game. When some people do that you leave Dez (Bryant) by himself. Defenses have to decide what they’re going to give up. When you’re trailing late you’re never going to run as much as you want and when you’re ahead you’re going to get more carries.”

Romo also said “it makes everyone’s jobs easier when you run the ball effectively.”

The question is when that effectiveness will start. Murray has handled the bulk of the load through two games, taking 32 of the Cowboys’ 39 carries. Phillip Tanner has just one carry. So does Lance Dunbar, who returned for the Kansas City game from an ankle injury. He seemed to provide a spark in the third quarter, but later fumbled.

Travis Frederick Dallas Cowboys

Travis Frederick was the Dallas Cowboys 2013 first round draft choice to help improve the running game

Meanwhile the Cowboys’ major offseason upgrades offensively came through the draft. First-round pick Travis Frederick, a center, has received solid marks from coaches through his first two games. But fifth-round pick Joseph Randle, a running back many believed would be Murray’s backup, has been inactive for both games.

The Cowboys are hopeful that improvement from within, along with the change to Bill Callahan to play-caller, will pay off this season. But it hasn’t paid off yet, at least now after the Cowboys dropped a 17-16 contest to Kansas City last Sunday, a team that went 2-14 a year ago.

The Cowboys may also offer veteran guard Brian Waters more playing time after he alternated several possessions with Mackenzy Bernadeau last week. Garrett even floated the idea last week of playing the two veterans together instead of as a tandem with Ronald Leary, who has started both games. The Cowboys wanted a cohesive offensive line after last year’s debacle. That hasn’t happened yet, either.

As the Cowboys keep searching for the right mix, the bottom line is clear.

“You’re trying to win games,” Romo said. “It’s a fine line. You’re always trying to run the ball effectively. You’re trying to keep the defense from teeing off on you and the quarterback. You have to weigh all that. I think more than anything you have to get production. We’re trying to find different ways to do that.”