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Eatman: Once Again, Non-Existent Running Game Fails Cowboys

Posted Sep 15, 2013

KANSAS CITY – Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

A football team walks into the room with a really good passing attack. They’ve got a stud wide receiver, one of the best tight ends in the NFL and a quarterback who generally does a good job of getting all of his receivers in the game.

But even when those passing weapons get the offense down close to scoring, they can’t do that other thing very well and therefore they settle for a field goal.

That other thing is something called a running game. You know, when the quarterback hands the ball off to a runner and he picks up yards rushing.

Well, the Cowboys don’t have that right now. And therefore, the joke’s on them.

The Cowboys lost a game they probably shouldn’t have on Sunday. Yes, I know the Vegas oddsmakers had the Chiefs as a field-goal favorite and the Cowboys lost it 17-16 on the road. Yeah, forget all that. When you watch the game Sunday it looked as if the Cowboys were the better football team – at least on the field.

But it ends up 17-16 Chiefs and that’s really all that matters when it’s said and done. Give credit to Andy Reid for what appears to be a culture change in Kansas City. They’ve got a solid team, but I’m not really sure they’re a playoff team.

Then again, the Cowboys certainly didn’t look like one either. You can sit there and say “calm down, it’s Week 2. There are 14 games to go – a lot can happen.” And you’d be exactly right. There is a lot of football to be played. And I certainly won’t be the one to think a Week 2 loss on the road is a perfect forecast for the rest of the season.

But man, have we not seen this before?

The Cowboys can talk all they want to about wanting to run the ball more and run it better and be a balanced team, but so far through two games, they’re not a balanced team. They don’t pass AND run. They just pass. And it’s not because they don’t want to be balanced – they simply can’t run the football effectively.

This team rushed for 37 yards on Sunday against the Chiefs, including 25 from DeMarco Murray. The Cowboys really just ran the ball 13 times, with a dozen handoffs going to Murray. The Cowboys threw the ball 42 more times on Sunday, and if we’re scoring at home, the Cowboys have now thrown it 91 times and have run it 39. Actually, it’s really only 34 attempts if you take out the quarterback scrambles and backward passes to receivers.

Take Kansas City for example. Last year, Jamaal Charles went for 1,500 yards despite the Chiefs winning just two games all year. I would like to think they didn’t just lose 14 games in the final seconds. Kansas City was down quite a bit and still managed to run the ball. Why? Because they can.

And on Sunday, they weren’t that effective with Charles for more than three quarters. The Chiefs had just 25 total rushes and eight of those were from the quarterback, Alex Smith. Charles only had 16 carries for 55 yards. But when Kansas City got the ball back late in the game, protecting that one-point lead, and the Cowboys knowing they were going to run and stacking the line, Charles and the Chiefs still ran the ball with success. They picked up two first downs and all but chewed up the clock, giving the Cowboys virtually no chance to win when they got it back with 16 seconds left, pinned back on their goal line.

That’s the difference between the Cowboys and Chiefs on this day, and it’s been the difference between the Cowboys and many teams for a few years now. When teams know they’re going to run, they can’t do it.

Goal-line, short-yardage … the Cowboys can’t move the defensive linemen off the ball and create running lanes. And I don’t think we should put all of the blame on the offensive line. Yeah, that’s where it starts, but it seemed on Sunday there were yards left on the table. The focus with DeMarco Murray all summer has been keeping him healthy. But there seemed to be a handful of runs where the hole just wasn’t hit.

And it’s not just Murray, but this team isn’t too great at breaking tackles. Too many times in the open field Cowboys players have a one-on-one in space and can’t shake defenders.

But back to the run, it has to start with a greater emphasis. Case in point – the Cowboys had first-and-goal from the Kansas City 5 midway through the third quarter. With a 10-7 lead, a touchdown there would’ve been huge, especially in a game in which the Chiefs weren’t having any success moving the ball.

All summer long, this is the exact scenario I’ve been wondering if the Cowboys could improve upon. Can they run the ball into the end zone. And first down from the 5 was a great example.

Yet, they don’t even try. The Cowboys tried to throw on first down and Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe darted through the line to drop Romo for a 7-yard loss. Now it’s second down from the 12 and running the ball is out the window. In fact, they don’t even throw the ball down the field. Romo hits Murray in the flat and then after a false start penalty on Ron Leary, it appeared Romo checked into a bubble screen to rookie Terrance Williams, who was dropped for a 3-yard loss. Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Dwayne Harris all seem more suitable to run that play with success over Williams.

So they settled for another field goal. But again, it all stems back to the sack they allowed trying to throw. Just about every team in the league is running the ball there on first down. This team doesn’t even attempt to run. Earlier in the drive, the Cowboys had a third-and-2 and threw a slant to Bryant for five. On third-and-3, it was a sideline fade to Williams.

They can sign Brian Waters. They can draft a center in the first round. And they can sit here and tell us that Bill Callahan is a more run-oriented play-caller. But right now, this team doesn’t run the ball more. And they don’t run it better.

Yeah, there are other teams that are somewhat one-dimensional, too. But it’s teams with better quarterbacks and better offenses. Tony Romo needs some help. His passing game needs help, too. Until they get that help from the running game, the Cowboys will continue to be a hit-or-miss team with a hit-or-miss offense.

Keep playing that way and we know all too well where this 1-1 record is headed … again.

Photos from the Cowboys-Chiefs game >>

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