IRVING, Texas -If you have watched even half of the Cowboys games this year, then you've probably become accustomed to seeing them struggle running the ball. Despite rushing for over 250 yards in a loss to Baltimore the team still ranks as one of the worst rushing teams in the NFL.
So seeing them struggle to establish a ground game against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday night wasn't much of a surprise. In fact, this was not even the Cowboys' worst rushing game in terms of yardage. They have managed to play games where they have accumulated less than the 65 yards they recorded on Sunday.
But make no mistake, this rushing performance was not just average, it was abysmal. The final result of 65 yards rushing is actually a deceiving number. It should be noted that of those 65 yards, 39 of them came on three consecutive plays to start the third quarter. The Cowboys started a drive with a 15-yard run by Felix Jones who then received the ball the very next play and ran it for six yards. Immediately following that play, Lance Dunbar got an open field burst and ran for 18 yards (the longest run for the Cowboys all night). Three plays later the Cowboys were punting.
That means that nearly two thirds of their rushing yardage was accumulated on three consecutive plays that resulted in zero points for the Cowboys. The rest of their rushing game amounted to 15 painful-to-watch carries resulting in 26 yards.
In previous games it seemed that the meager rushing results had something to do with the offense choosing to basically abandon the run game altogether. On Sunday we saw definitive proof of why Jason Garrett has been so hesitant to run the ball in a number of games.
The running backs for the Cowboys were consistently hit almost immediately after receiving the ball on the majority of their runs. Of their 18 carries, ten of them were run for three yards or less. Even worse, four of those carries resulted in either no gain or a loss of yards. Jones, Dunbar and Phillip Tanner all contributed a rush attempt for no gain or a loss of yardage.
Against Atlanta they averaged 3.3 yards per carry. This brought their season average down to 3.6 yards per carry, which included the outlier of a 5.4 yards per carry average against Baltimore.
And this Falcons rushing defense was not exactly a brick wall. Atlanta came into the game with the Cowboys with the 26th ranked rushing defense in the NFL.
Of course the Cowboys have been missing their starting running back DeMarco Murray, but I think the problem goes much deeper than that. While the running backs may not be playing terrific football, the offensive line has to collect some of the blame. It is tough to gain any yardage when you are hit almost immediately upon receiving the ball.
The Falcons have proven that a team can rely on a terrific passing attack to make up for a relatively average running game. That mentality has them sitting at 8-0. But on the flip side, the Cowboys have proven that you cannot win games with an abysmal running attack. The ground game does not have to be tops in the league, but there has to be at least a little bit of production.
Sunday night the Cowboys did not benefit at all from their running game.