The Dallas Cowboys‘ 31-16 win over the Washington Redskins in Week 6 would have and should have been a turning point for America’s Team in the 2013 NFL season, but it wasn’t. DeMarco Murray left the game in the second quarter with a knee injury and didn’t return, which means the Cowboys should be back to their old, pass-happy ways until he’s able to get back on the field.
Things started off well for Dallas on Sunday night as Murray carried the ball five times for 21 yards and a score on his team’s opening drive. Then he had runs of two and six yards on the Cowboys’ ensuing possession before hitting his knee on the turf at AT&T Stadium. Up until that point, the play-calling for the home team was superb and it was working.
Even after Murray left the game, the Cowboys ran the ball 12 times as opposed to 18 passing plays, although Joseph Randle (1.5 yards per carry) and Phillip Tanner (2.0) weren’t nearly as effective running the ball as Murray (4.1). However, seven of those runs came on the Cowboys’ final two drives after the game was already decided.
Dwayne Harris provided a ton of offense for the Cowboys via special teams, which resulted in short drives for the most part. But on Dallas’ four regular drives after Murray’s injury, things were extremely unbalanced. In the second quarter, the Cowboys passed the ball seven times with only run in a drive that ended with a punt and gave Washington a field goal just before the half. Midway through the third quarter, Dallas went three-and-out on consecutive series with five passes and one run. Then early in the fourth quarter, Tony Romo passed the ball nine straight times on a drive that ended with a field goal.
After that, Randle was given the ball several times to run out the clock and it all ended well, but it’s not foreshadowing of what’s to come for Dallas. In most games, all-passing drives that end in field goals will result in losses, which is what happens a vast majority of the time when the Cowboys lose. Very seldom does Bill Callahan run a balanced offensive attack — it actually only happens in blowout wins for Dallas, which are also rare.
The Cowboys sit at 3-3 after six games and have a golden opportunity to win their next three against weaker teams with defenses that don’t do well against the run, but Callahan is very unlikely to take advantage without Murray on the field. If Lance Dunbar can return, that will certainly help, but for whatever reason (probably pressure from Jason Garrett), Callahan simply can’t control his trigger finger in games that are relatively close, even when Dallas has the lead.
The next six games on the Cowboys’ schedule are crucial because five of them are against bad teams, including two NFC East teams. Establishing offensive balance is critical right now, so Murray’s injury has come at the worst possible time. It will be important for Randle, Tanner and Dunbar to prove they can handle the rushing load, because that’s the only hope the Cowboys have of getting balanced play-calling from Callahan, even though that’s still unlikely. Cowboys fans better cross their fingers because now through Thanksgiving is going to be one heck of a Romocoaster ride.