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Auping: Committing To Running Game Will Yield Better Results

Posted Oct 5, 2012

Sometimes if you want something to pay off you have to commit to it. It’s always nice when the payoff is immediate and apparent, but more often than not it takes the discipline to not overreact to a couple failures. 

Before moving in to the bye week and focusing on the Ravens, I’d like to address something that was lost in the shadow of Romo’s five-interception game against the Bears on Monday night: the ineffectiveness of the running game. 

The Cowboys only managed 41 yards on the ground and DeMarco Murray only accounted for 24 of those yards. The low rushing numbers obviously had a great deal to do with the ineffectiveness of the ball carriers and the run blocking. But it also had something to do with a lack of commitment to the run. The Cowboys’ play calling almost completely abandoned the run after their early failures, which very likely contributed, to the mistakes in the passing game. 

The Cowboys only rushed the ball a total of 14 times in Monday’s game. Keep in mind that two of those 14 runs included a reverse to Kevin Ogletree and a scramble for zero yards by Tony Romo. That leaves 12 running plays for the Cowboys’ backs. 

The issue of run versus passing play distribution has been a constant debate among Cowboy fans for a few years now. There are a lot of football people that would claim that there is no logic in blindly continuing to run the ball when you have a much more effective passing game. But the logic is in time of possession, avoiding costly turnovers and the understanding that a big play in the running game will only come with patience and commitment. 

Costly turnovers were clearly a problem against the Bears. The Cowboys ran the ball six times in the first quarter, two times in the second quarter and five times in the third quarter. By the fourth quarter they had no choice but to air it out. 

While that may have been the case in the fourth quarter, the misconception about this game is that the Cowboys were forced to keep passing it because they fell behind early and had to play catch up. Keep in mind that neither team scored in the first quarter. The score was 10-7 at halftime. And the ten-point lead later in the third quarter certainly should not have constituted abandoning the running game. 

With 8:17 left in the third quarter Romo was intercepted for the second time as he attempted to get the ball to Kevin Ogletree in the red zone. The Cowboys trailed 17-7. Luckily for the Cowboys, four plays later DeMarcus Ware forced a fumble on Jay Cutler and Victor Butler recovered it on the Chicago 27-yard line. 

As the Cowboys were taking the field I wrote out a Tweet that said, “Time for a heavy dose of DeMarco. Guarantee yourself a field goal and set up the play action for later.” By the time I had sent the tweet the ball was already in the hands of Bears’ linebacker Lance Briggs as he ran a Tony Romo interception for a 74-yard touchdown. 

While I am not the type of person to fault Jason Garrett for not calling the same play as I would have when has much more experience in the game of football than me, my point is simple: the Cowboys gave up on the running game and the Bears knew it. 

Romo’s interceptions were awful. His receivers weren’t on the same page as him. His offensive line did not properly protect him. But just as big a factor as all these things was the fact that the Chicago Bears secondary knew the Cowboys were going to throw the ball. 

Romo and Garrett both basically admitted that the last two interceptions were just a result of trying to air it out in an attempt to make up a large deficit. But you could also say that about the two interceptions prior to that. Only the deficit was a manageable ten points at that point. 

Monday’s game was like an avalanche for the Cowboys. Every mistake felt like a reaction to the latest mistake. 

It is true that the results were abysmal when the Cowboys actually did run the ball. It’s also true that they moved the ball very effectively at times through the air. But a true commitment to the running game means accepting a few ineffective runs. A two yard loss by DeMarco Murray is always better than an interception returned for a touchdown.

There’s no denying that the NFL seems to be becoming a passing league and that teams like the New England Patriots seem to have an offensive game plan that almost disregards the running game at times. But the Cowboys do not have the same personnel as the Patriots. They do not have Tom Brady and they do not have the Patriots’ pass protection. Not to mention that if the Patriots had a running back like DeMarco Murray they would very likely take advantage of him. 

The Cowboys need to run the ball more, not because they can’t trust Romo, but so that they can make his job easier. Murray will need to get the ball more to have an impact on the game. And while so many of us have been quick to condemn Felix Jones, has he really gotten a fair chance in the running game? Jones has not gotten two meaningful offensive carries in a game all season. In Monday’s game he got the ball once and rushed it for 13 yards, the Cowboys’ longest run of the night. 

Jason Garrett knows how to call a football game and he cannot be blamed for Romo’s five interceptions. But Monday’s game can be summed up with its highlight package. There were big plays made by Chicago that determined the game. Instead of weathering the storm the Cowboys tried to match with big plays of their own, only to give the Bears more opportunities.

If the Cowboys offense becomes predictable next weekend, after the bye, then I can guarantee the Baltimore Ravens defense will know how to take advantage. 

 

 

 

 

 

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