Helman: Through Three Games Is This Actually A Running Back By Committee?

Where have you gone, DeMarco Murray?

Don't answer that. I know he's in Philadelphia – I saw him with my own eyes – and I know he sat out of Week 3 with a hamstring injury. The fate of the Cowboys' former running back is entirely unimportant to the Cowboys going forward.

But take one look around the NFL after three weeks, and you'll see a sizable absence where No. 29 used to be. One year after Murray set the standard for what a single running back is capable of in the modern NFL, it seems the old norm is back.

Yes, the faces dominating the rushing charts are familiar. Adrian Peterson is the NFL's current rushing leader with 291 yards, and Matt Forte is nipping at his heels with 276. Youngster Carlos Hyde is off to a hot start with 262 yards on 52 carries.

The workload is the difference, though. It's a small sample size, but Peterson and Forte are averaging about 19.6 carries per game to this point. One of the league's other most prominent feature backs, Jammal Charles, is averaging just 16 touches.

Think back to Murray's award-winning 2014, and you'll recall that he averaged 25 carries per game for roughly 115 yards per game. At this point last year, he had 76 total carries for 385 yards – nearly a full game of progress over this year's leaders.

None of this qualifies as overly surprising. Quarterbacks and passing yards tend to dictate the pace in the NFL these days. Feature back offenses – like Minnesota, Chicago and obviously last year's Cowboys – are far away the exception and not the rule.

In fact, of the top 16 rushing offenses in the league right now, the majority are sharing carries between several runners -- even offenses with established bell cows. In Seattle, Marshawn Lynch has only accounted for 38 of 86 team attempts through three weeks. In Washington, Alfred Morris has seen a fairly even split – 49 carries to 36 – with rookie Matt Jones.

Which brings me, in a very roundabout way, to my point – the Cowboys' famous running back by committee.

Is it really a committee to this point in the season? The numbers seem to say no.  Three weeks into the season, Joseph Randle is accounting for 62 percent of the Cowboys' carries and has amassed 64 percent of their rushing yardage.

Darren McFadden had his biggest day of the season on Sunday, when he tallied six attempts for 35 yards and a touchdown. The veteran running back had a 10-carry day in Philadelphia, but he's averaging just seven touches per game to this point.

For the purposes of this column, we won't even consider Lance Dunbar a member of the committee, as he has just two carries in three games this season.

Contrast that with other towns across the NFL, where James Starks and Eddie Lacy are splitting the workload, 42 percent and 35 percent, respectively. Cincinnati, the No. 8 rushing offense in the league, is splitting carries, 41 and 41, between its young duo of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill.

Obviously, Randle's workload isn't invoking any memories of Murray so far. His season high is 18 carries, and he tallied just 14 in the loss to Atlanta. But it's fair to say that the Cowboys are trusting their fifth-round pick to handle the lion's share of the workload so far.

The stats would tell you he's doing a solid job. Randle is averaging 4.2 yards per carry, and he's actually just ninth among NFL rushers despite sharing carries with McFadden.

Still, with the exception of a few explosive plays, it's hard to feel like there's any great consistency. Randle averaged 2.8 yards per carry against a strong Eagles front, and he was completely stonewalled in the second half against Atlanta.

Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones made a strong point on Tuesday when he was asked about the stacked front the Falcons presented on Randle's four second half carries.

"In that second half when they put eight men in there, we'd like to – what they call them, dirty yards, tough yards, whatever you want to call them," he said. "I will promise you, they're dirty, tough, anything damn thing you want to call them when they've got nine men on the line."

That's not likely to change while Brandon Weeden is filling in for Tony Romo, but I don't think the Cowboys can afford to let that dictate their preferences. This offense made a living last year running the ball against defenses that knew what was coming.

To this point in the season 65 of Randle's 203 yards have come from the two long gainers he broke to open the Atlanta game – one of them a spectacular, 37-yard touchdown. I wouldn't dream of taking away the credit for those touchdowns, but it seems fair to say there's a lack of the same consistency we got so used to in 2014.

Which – in my mind, at least – begs the question? Is this actually a running back by committee? And if it isn't, then shouldn't it be?

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