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NFL Dallas Cowboys

Improved Running Game Key For Dallas Cowboys To Return To Playoffs

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone wants to blame Tony Romo for the Dallas Cowboys failures, and while he may not have played his best game against the Washington Redskins, he did keep the Cowboys season alive until the last game of the season. Romo does deserve some blame but as I’ve said before he can’t do it all himself; they need to improve their running game if they want to make it into the playoffs next year.

The Cowboys were abysmal at running the football this season. Just how bad were they? This season they set a franchise record for fewest rushing yards in a 16-game season with 1,265 yards, or 542 yards less than last year. Dallas ranked 31st in the league in rushing, the only team worse was the Arizona Cardinals, who lost their top two rushers for a significant amount of the season.

We can attribute some of that to losing DeMarco Murray for six games but there is a bigger issue here, the Cowboys have regressed in the running game. They have statistically fallen in each of the past three years; they were 18th in the NFL last year, 16th in 2010 and seventh in 2009. Anyone want to guess which of those years they made the playoffs?

Before the season began, I said the Cowboys were going to have to improve their running game if they were to have any chance to make the playoffs. It turns out I was only half right because Dallas did have a chance but obviously they didn’t get in and part of the reason why is because of their inability to run the ball. I felt it was key to control the Redskins game with Murray in order to keep the Cowboys defense fresh but that didn’t happen.

Last year the Cowboys had a pathetic four rushing touchdowns and this season they only slightly improved by scoring seven rushing touchdowns, not counting Tony Romo’s touchdown, and that just isn’t good enough. Just like in 2011, when the Cowboys offense had trouble scoring in the red zone, this year’s team struggled because they couldn’t run the ball effectively near the goal line. This is an issue that must be fixed.

Everyone knows the Cowboys need better offensive line play and obtaining better linemen is an absolute must this off-season, but Jason Garrett and the offense needs to do a better job of sustaining the run. They need more balance to keep defenses honest, keep pressure off of Tony Romo and to keep him from making mistakes. The best way to do that is with the running game and the Cowboys haven’t had one since 2009, the last time they went to the playoffs.

DeMarco Murray has the ability to be a game breaking runner but he needs to stay healthy. And when he is healthy, the Cowboys need to commit to running the ball with him, or whoever is in the backfield, to keep some balance with the Cowboys offense. We all know the NFL is a passing league but the teams that win are usually the most physical and the Cowboys have failed in that area again this year.

Think about the teams that made the playoffs this year and ask yourself if they have a good running game? Actually just go back to last week’s game with the Redskins and remember how Washington won that game. Of the 12 teams that made the playoffs, eight of them are in the top half of the league in rushing.

Another off-season with the same question for the Dallas Cowboys; how will they fix their running game? When they find that answer, I bet they’ll also find themselves back in the playoffs.

you can chat with or follow Ben on twitter @BenGrimaldi