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Mailbag: Why the trouble running inside?


Why do we have so much trouble running inside when we have Zack Martin and Tyler Smith, two of the league's best guards, blocking on the inside? – Fred London/Morristown, TN

Nick Eatman: I think it's a combination of a lot of things. The Cowboys just don't seem to win the strength-on-strength battles in the middle of the line. Yes, you named two guards, but they still don't seem to move people back at the center position. I think Tyler Biadasz is a good center, especially in the passing game, but he's not the biggest guy and moving people from one spot to another is still not the best thing he does. Now, factor in the running back. Tony Pollard isn't exactly built for this. I think what made him a good player is the fact he can get in space and make plays off the edge. Sure, he'll pop a big run up the middle now and then but you shouldn't make a living doing that and because he's the No. 1 back, I think we're seeing the wear and tear on him this year. But at least acknowledge the fact that the Cowboys make up for this in other ways. You have a wide receiver that just multiple team records for catches and yards so the Cowboys are finding ways to move the ball. But yes, it's a problem when they're trying to "run" out the clock and they can't run.

Kurt: If you look at the season overall for the Cowboys, they've actually had some success when running straight up the middle. According to the NFL's statistical website, Dallas has averaged 4.3 yards per carry when rushing up the gut, which ranks eighth in the league. However, when running off right guard, the Cowboys are 22nd with a 3.75 average, and are 28th on tries off left guard at 3.36. Which does seem strange given the talent they have in Martin, who will eventually get Hall of Fame consideration, and Smith, one of the game's best young offensive linemen. Perhaps Martin, at 33 years of age, has lost a step or doesn't quite have the same power. Maybe Smith, after playing tackle in college and seeing time at both positions last season, is still learning the nuances of playing guard. Regardless, I'd still take those two over just about any other guard combination in the NFL. I think where fans get frustrated is repeatedly seeing Tony Pollard run into a mass of bodies for no gain on first down. Against the Lions, the Cowboys ran the ball nine times inside on first down for a 2.5 yards per carry average. They were even worse running the ball outside on first down, totaling a 1.4 mark on five tries. But when passing on first down, Dak Prescott was 12-for-12 for 88 yards, an average of 7.3 yards per completion. So the real reason for any perceived struggles might be simply predictability. Perhaps teams expect Dallas to stick to the ground game on first down and plan accordingly, which is a tall order against a top-five run defense like Detroit's.

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