The Dallas Cowboys came so close to beating the Baltimore Ravens on the road Sunday that many members of the Dallas faithful likely had to call in sick to work on Monday. Cowboys fans who know the team’s struggles have been calling for the team to run the ball more ever since Dallas’ strong performance in a Week 1 victory over the New York Giants. The Cowboys finally heeded, but still came up short. However, this mentally-weak team cannot abandon the game plan that brought it so much success on Sunday.
As a team, the Cowboys ran the ball 42 times for for 227 yards, an average of 5.4 yards per carry. In franchise history, the Cowboys were 89-0 in every game they ran the ball at least 42 times until Sunday.
The loss can be blamed on a number of things, including receiver Dez Bryant’s drop on what would have been a game-tying two-point conversion, head coach Jason Garrett’s extremely poor clock management after the Cowboys recovered an onside kick and kicker Dan Bailey for missing what would have been the game-winning 51-yard field goal. However, Dallas wouldn’t have even been in the game had it not been for the strong running game.
It was tempting to want to give kudos for Garrett for calling so many running plays, but then he squandered things as usual toward the end of the game. As is typical for the Cowboys and especially Garrett, crunch time got the best them.
On a first-and-goal from the Raven’s four-yard line, Garrett called a pass. Fortunately, Bryant came up with the catch for the score. That brought Dallas to within two and then Garrett’s itchy trigger finger got the best of him. He called the exact same route for Bryant from the exact same spot on the field. The receiver got in position, but couldn’t make the play.
Yes, Bryant was in position and should have made the play, but why didn’t Garrett just run the ball? All four of the Cowboys’ running backs absolutely sliced through the Ravens’ defense all afternoon, but Garrett abandoned them in the game’s most critical moment. That’s not what successful NFL coaches do.
It will be very interesting to see whether Garrett sticks with the run after the Cowboys’ incredible success against one of the league’s most feared defenses. He completely got away from it for three straight games and the Cowboys played awful in all of those contests. The one time he comes back to it, Dallas took arguably the best team in the league to the wire and should have beaten them. That should be a no-brainer, don’t you think?
However, Garrett, even with his Princeton education, can’t seem to figure it out. He has a quality stable of running backs led by workhorse DeMarco Murray, who played extremely well until a sprained foot forced him from the game. Heck, the Cowboys’ running game was so effective that it even brought Felix Jones back to life as he carried the ball 18 times for 92 yards, both season-highs.
When Jones needed a breather, second-year rising star Phillip Tanner came in and provided more than just a third-string player’s production. Dallas even got an 11-yard scamper from undrafted rookie Lance Dunbar on the drive that brought the Cowboys to within on point of the Ravens midway through the fourth quarter.
The evidence is in the enchiladas; the Cowboys are a much more effective team when they run the ball early and often. For whatever reason, Garrett only can seem to remember that once every four or five games and as long as that trend continues, Dallas will remain a mediocre team, at best.