Until DeMarco Murray‘s rookie season in 2011, the Dallas Cowboys had a huge problem that really shouldn’t have been one. Instead of using the stable of running backs the Cowboys had in a committee to keep their offense balanced, head coach Jason Garrett tried to feature one back for about two preseason games and then pretty much abandoned the run altogether in the regular season, which resulted in a pass-happy Dallas offense that didn’t win many games. With Murray trying hard to get healthy this year, the Cowboys could easily find themselves in a similar situation if their true starter goes down again.
The Cowboys are 6-0 in games that saw Murray gain 100 or more yards on the ground and 8-0 in each contest that concluded with at least 20 carries for the former Oklahoma Sooners standout. It’s a very simple formula that has worked for successful football teams since the game’s origination and one the Cowboys dynasty of the 1990s used to perfection with Emmitt Smith. The funny thing is Garrett was a member of those teams, yet he doesn’t seem to remember how it works.
Murray is bound to get banged up at some point this season, but with Bill Callahan now calling the plays for Dallas, the Cowboys shouldn’t revert to their old ways of abandoning the running game. Lance Dunbar, Joseph Randle and Phillip Tanner are three promising young backs who have very different skill sets that complement one another. With or without Murray on the field, all three of these fresh-legged runners should be used frequently throughout the season.
In an ideal situation, the Cowboys would run the ball 25-30 times per game, including 15-20 for Murray and then the other 10-15 split relatively evenly between Dunbar, Randle and Tanner. Of course, the hot-handed back would get more carries than the others on any given day, so those numbers wouldn’t be set in stone.
The point here is the Cowboys need to utilize their running game and that doesn’t just mean running Murray into the ground. Garrett, with his Princeton edition, wasn’t smart enough to figure that out in half a dozen years as the offensive play-caller, but Callahan has at least looked promising through two preseason games. Dunbar, Randle and Tanner have all been impressive at different times over the past week with a handful of running plays in each exhibition but the Cowboys haven’t been in a situation that requires discipline by the offensive coordinator yet.
The first time Dallas falls behind in the second half of a regular season game, then we’ll see if the switch to Callahan made a difference. If we see a good balance between passing and running plays that result in a steady scoring drive, we’ll know the problem has been fixed. If we see a three-and-out series on a trio of pass plays, we’ll know it’s deja vu for Dallas.