Another overreaction Monday, another slew of headlines about the Dallas Cowboys‘ “lack of a running game.” There’s some truth to that statement alone, but the Cowboys’ fourth game of the season proved yet again that’s a deceiving headline to frustrated fans of America’s Team, especially after the Cowboys’ Week 4 loss to the San Diego Chargers.
After a monster game in Week 3, DeMarco Murray ran well again in San Diego, averaging five yards per carry. However, he wasn’t utilized in the right situations and he wasn’t given the ball enough.
Murray burst right out of the game with a 10-yard gain on the first play against the Chargers, but then Cowboys offensive coordinator Bill Callahan called three straight pass plays and Dallas punted after a sack and two incompletions. On the Cowboys’ ensuing series, Murray gained eight yards on two carried before the drive stalled because of a sudden switch in play-calling to a pass. The Cowboys had yet another three-and-out series on all pass plays before finally running the ball relatively consistently on a long scoring drive, but taking one step forward for every three steps back won’t win football games.
We could go through all of the Cowboys’ drives from the game, but to save time, here’s the short version: the run was abandoned time and again when it was working, which is why Murray only ended up with 14 carries, although he racked up 70 yards in that limited work. In addition, Lance Dunbar received the only other carry of the game, which he took for seven yards.
The running game was working, but it was abandoned. Again, the Cowboys do have an effective running game if Callahan and Jason Garrett would use it properly.
Now, Terrance Williams‘ fumble in the red zone with under three minutes to play definitely didn’t help matters, but the Cowboys were in the game and would have been ahead had Callahan not gotten trigger-happy and predictable with his play-calling. The jury is still out on whether Garrett is affecting that at all, regardless of what he says to the media during the week, because the play-calling changes are still abrupt and bizarre under Callahan just like they were when the head coach was calling them over the past half-decade.
The Cowboys should have own this game against the Chargers and although Dallas’ defense is being blamed for Philip Rivers throwing for 400 yards, those players can’t be expected to consistently stop an opposing offense when they’re on the field for a majority of the game. That many three-and-outs take a toll on any defense because then they’re on the field much longer than they should be; the Chargers had the ball 10 minutes more than the Cowboys on Sunday.
Every week, Cowboys fans look for a new reason as to why this is still a .500 team, but the problem is the same as it’s been since 2007: inconsistent play-calling. The offensive line is playing well, the defense plays well when it’s not on the field for a majority of the game and the offense clicks like a well-oiled machine when the running game is properly utilized. But unless the offensive play-calling problem is fixed, Dallas will be an 8-8 team for at least the remainder of the Garrett era.