IRVING, Texas – Glimpses of the old Felix Jones who averaged 8.9 yards per carry in 2008 and 5.9 yards per carry in 2009 have come and gone during the 2012 season.
Just as he had throughout his career, Jones has battled various injuries this year, nursing knee and shoulder problems at different points. But he trucked on.
Usually, it wasn't too productively. The same burst that drew the Cowboys to draft the running back and excited fans early in his career didn't' seem to exist any longer. That is, until the last couple weeks.
With DeMarco Murray missing half the Cowboys games this year, Jones' role has steadily increased in the offense. After watching him in the preseason, he never seemed to be the same guy from years prior following offseason shoulder surgery. Questions about his conditioning sprung up, while his rushing numbers went down.
Jones had a total of 13 yards rushing through the first four weeks of the season. The aptly placed bye week must have rejuvenated Jones, who ran for seven times as many yards in Week 6 against the Ravens than he had the entire rest of the season to that point. The dynamic rushing performance came unexpectedly. He looked like a different back, or at least the old back. It just so happened that in the same game in Baltimore, Jones took over as the primary running back after Murray's foot sprain.
If Jones ran the way he did in Baltimore for the next few weeks, the Cowboys wouldn't have a problem replacing Murray in the lineup. But he didn't.
Jones regressed back to his form early in the season, running 28 times for 63 yards the next two weeks. He looked like he wasn't at full strength. At one point, executive vice president Stephen Jones admitted Jones was injured enough during that stretch that a normal athlete would have sat out.
He rushed for only 39 yards a week later in Atlanta, but something happened in that low rushing performance that seemed to indicate he might be feeling better. He upped his rushing average to 4.3 yards per carry after averaging 2.9 and 1.5 yards per carry the two games prior. He also added five catches for 70 yards.
"I don't think he was real healthy through training camp and the early part of the season," said head coach Jason Garrett. "I just think that shoulder thing is behind him, any issue he had with his knee is behind him and he's just playing better and better."
The problem for Jones has been consistency. One week he flashes signs of the Arkansas running back. The next week he looks like he's been in the league for 20 years. But for the first time this season, Jones began to build upon a past performance.
He translated the increasing rushing average the next week against the Eagles, while also increased his rushing output, trucking for 71 yards on 4.4 yards per carry. Even more impressive was his catch and run, trucking through five or six defenders for an 11-yard touchdown.
"Felix made a good play on it," Garrett said. "I thought he played that way throughout the ball game. He ran the ball well inside, made some plays where he got to the outside. It was good, tough running. I thought he looked as healthy as he's looked all year long."
While Garrett would welcome Murray back to the lineup whenever he's ready, he also said Jones is demonstrating signs of his old self, which will be essential for these two games in the next week.
If he's as healthy as Garrett said he is, then it's up to Jones to put together the type of rushing totals he registered against Baltimore and Philadelphia in consecutive weeks, something he hasn't done since last season. What better time to do it than against a Browns defense ranked 27th in the league at stopping the run.