On The Run

Cowboys won't be an improved running team this season?

What about the projected one-two punch of a healthy Murray and Jones, exactly what the Cowboys envisioned last year at this time, with the exception that the one is now the second punch and the two is now the one?

Murray appears to be fully recovered from his season-ending surgery to repair the torn ligaments. He's running awfully well. His lateral movement is fine. He seems to have conquered any leftover tentativeness usually created by injury, but then we won't fully know that until he knows someone is going to knock his block off. Plus, he's learning in these OTAs, and will do so even more in next week's minicamp, what he should have learned last offseason way before the end of training camp.

Jones' wheels are just fine, too. He's getting his conditioning in. It's just that the trainers see no reason to have a guy recovering from shoulder surgery running into people in June without shoulder pads on – remember, we have offseason rules galore now. Ask Seattle.

The question will be, and again without pads on, who really knows for sure if the offensive line has improved? Will the run blocking be better, and enough so for Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett to lean on the run in pressure and short-yardage situations moreso this year than last?

See, the misconception is that the former NFL quarterback is totally enamored with the pass, and forgets to run the ball enough. The truth is, he did not have enough confidence in his offensive line to blow people off the line of scrimmage when they knew he would be running the ball. Garrett saw firsthand how valuable the run can be when on the sideline watching Smith for nine seasons of his run to the all-time NFL rushing title.

In fact, the head coach reacted somewhat passionately, almost as if his manhood had been challenged, when asked this week if the NFL had become "a passing league."

Maybe it was from the sun, but his custom red complexion grew a deeper shade of crimson.

"I don't think it's a passing league," Garrett quickly responded. "I think teams that win in this league are physical football teams. I think history will show you that. If you are not a physical football team, if you are not willing to run the ball and defend the run, if you say, hey, we're just going to throw it, you're not going to be very good when it comes down to it.

"When you are trying to win playoff games and win Super Bowls and win championships, you better be a physical football team, and that goes back a lot of years in this league and I suspect it will continue for a long, long time."

So there.

Maybe the ingredients then are there for the Cowboys to become a much more physical football team, one that can run the ball successfully when the situation calls for running the ball. Maybe the Cowboys can exploit last year's rather remarkable 4.4 yards-per-carry average and actually rush for more than 2,000 yards, something they've done only twice since 1999 (in 2001 and 2009).

And maybe, just maybe, they can leap over my rushing-touchdown benchmark for success: More than 10 rushing touchdowns in a season. Because remember, when the Cowboys have failed to rush for more than 10 touchdowns in a season they never have finished with a winning record.

And they certainly failed miserably last season, finishing with just five, fewest in the 52-year history of the Cowboys, and one of many reasons for the disappointing 8-8 season. Five, for cryin' out loud, and one of those was Tony Romo's. And get this: Of those five rushing touchdowns, only two were from more than 1 yard out – Murray's 91-yarder and Phillip Tanner's six-yarder.

Kidding me? Only one time did the Cowboys run the ball in the end zone from further out than six yards? Might be an entry for the Guinness Book of World Records or Ripley's Believe It Or Not.

So, we'll see. But I'm just sayin', aside from the embarrassingly-low touchdown total, last year's running game wasn't just dastardly. There were signs of some bite to it despite all this team had to overcome.

Makes you daydream a little, doesn't it?

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