IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys would undoubtedly have wanted to improve on their running game even with Tony Romo in the lineup. Facing two months without their star signal-caller, the need seems even more urgent than before.
Asked about it on Thursday morning, Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones didn't mince words.
"Yes, we do," he said. "We have to work hard to have a game, have a game that lets us dwell on the running game."
Several member of the Cowboys organization have pointed it out, including Jones and Cowboys coach Jason Garret, and it's a valid argument: circumstances haven't been ideal for a ground-and-pound gameplan through two weeks. In the season opener, the Cowboys fell behind by double digits in the second half, and last week they went against a stingy front seven in Philadelphia.
"If we get in the situations that we were in most of the time last year, then I think you'll see the type running game that you might have come to expect from last year," he said.
The Cowboys are tied for just 16th in the league in attempts, with just 56 on the year. But they're also averaging just 3.4 yards per carry on those attempts, which is 27th in the league. Garrett didn't elaborate quite as much as Jones, but he agreed that it needs improving.
"We are always striving to do better on all parts of our team, and certainly we want to run the ball better," he said. "That's an important part of how we want to play offensive football."
Joseph Randle was pleased to hear Jones' thoughts on the ground game.
"I mean Jerry is the man, so whatever he says probably goes. I'm with that," he said.
Through two outings Randle is leading the Cowboys in both carries and yards, with 34 and 116, respectively. That's a far cry from last year, though, when DeMarco Murray had 51 carries for 285 yards after two weeks.
Randle said he'd be excited to see an uptick in opportunities – but he's not necessarily calling for it.
"Of course you want more carries, and all of that kind of good stuff. But I'm also a team player. Whatever is best for the team, I think that's the top priority," he said. "It's top priority for me to be a team player and not be the type of person to be in here crying about carries and all of this different stuff."
The need for improvement on the ground goes far beyond Randle's priorities. Sunday will mark Brandon Weeden's first start since Romo went down with a broken collarbone, and a strong rushing effort would undoubtedly help take the pressure off.
At the same time, though, Jones said he thinks Weeden can help take the pressure off the running game. It seems logical to think that Atlanta's defense would crowd the line and force Weeden to win through the air – and Jones said he'd love to see that.
"The reason Weeden has my excitement is because they better back off, or he can hit it," he said. "He can make the throw. That's one of the reasons I feel good about him. If he keeps them backed off, then we've got to emphasize that we're going to run the ball."