By Matthew Postins
If the Dallas Cowboys are to make the jump from average team to playoff team, there are some things on the field that must change in 2013. In this series, RattleAndHumSports.com outlines five improvements the Cowboys could make in order to accomplish that goal in 2013.
No. 1: Run the football more often
Jason Garrett preaches balance as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. But the Cowboys’ offense in 2012 was anything but.
The Cowboys passed the ball 64.9 percent of the time in 2012. Part of that was due to injuries at running back and on the offensive line. Some of that was dictated by the games themselves.
But some of it is what appears to be lip service to the run game.
Garrett has been in charge of the offense for the past six seasons. During that time the Cowboys’ offense has become steadily unbalanced. When he took over in 2007 the Cowboys passed about 55 percent of the time. In the past half-dozen years that has gone up by 10 percent. In fact, the ratio has gone up steadily each of the past four seasons.
The Cowboys would probably trot out the injuries and the circumstances of this season as the reasons for the ratio. But there were times this season when the running game was actually productive and Garrett, as the play-caller, just ran away from it.
Take the Seattle game in Week 2. The Cowboys had more rushing yards at halftime (41) than the Seahawks (33). As a team Dallas was averaging 3.4 yards per carry. But running back DeMarco Murray was averaging 4.5 yards per carry. In the NFL anything about 4.0 is considered productive. Plus, the Cowboys were only down 13-7. The Cowboys defense even stopped Seattle on its first drive of the third quarter.
So what did Garrett do? He called a run play on first down and Murray gained nothing. He called pass on the next four plays and the Cowboys punted. Murray carried the ball twice after that as the game slipped away.
Another good example came in Week 16 against New Orleans, a team that was next to last in the NFL in rushing defense. Garrett didn’t exploit the matchup. Murray ran the ball 11 times for 40 yards and he was the only ball carrier. On the first drive of the game Murray carried the ball once and gained eight yards. His other first-half carries were for 6, 9, 5 and 4 yards. It’s not like Murray wasn’t gaining yards on this porous defense. The Cowboys needed to keep the Saints’ offense off the field and couldn’t do it because Garrett wouldn’t buy into the matchup.
The Cowboys were next to last in the NFL in rushing attempts, total yardage gained and yards per carry.
What’s strange is that in the one game in which Garrett did fully commit to running the ball – against Baltimore – the Cowboys went off, rushing for 227 yards on 42 attempts. It was a similar matchup to the Saints game, except this time Garrett bought into the matchup.
Dallas carried the ball at least 30 times in just two more games after the loss to the Ravens. They won both games.
The NFL is a passing league now. Garrett knows it. Plus he knows he has a quarterback in Tony Romo who, warts and all, can really sling it. But Garrett must be aware of this little tidbit – the two years the Cowboys made the postseason with Garrett as play-caller (2007 and 2009) were the years the Cowboys had their best offensive balance. The Cowboys threw the ball just 55 percent of the time those two seasons.
Need further illustration? Take a look at the dozen playoff teams. Only one – Atlanta – reached the postseason by throwing the ball more than 60 percent of the time. Indianapolis threw it 58.8 percent of the time. The other 10 teams threw it no more than 56.3 percent of the time. In fact, three teams reached the postseason throwing it less than 50 percent of the time.
Take a look at the last seven Super Bowl champions. None of them threw more than 60 percent of the time in the regular season the year they won the Super Bowl. In fact, the most that any of those teams threw was last year’s champions, the New York Giants, who threw it 58.9 percent of the time. The Green Bay Packers threw it 56.2 percent when they won Super Bowl XLV. Otherwise, the other five champions threw it 55 percent of the time or less. That includes the supposedly pass-happy New Orleans Saints (XLIV) and Indianapolis Colts (XLI).
The Cowboys need the running game to improve time of possession. They need it to trigger play action passing. They need it to take pressure off Romo and his receivers. They need it to become more consistent.
Most of all, they need it in order to make the playoffs.
The solutions include making sure Murray remains healthy, finding a more explosive complementary back and upgrading the offensive line. But it also requires Garrett to commit to the run more than he’s shown as offensive coordinator.
The Cowboys must emphasize an improved running game in 2013 if they expect to get anywhere beyond the regular season.
Next: It’s time to create more turnovers.