IRVING, Texas – To prepare for Sunday's Pacific Northwest encounter with the Seattle Seahawks, we start with a not-so trivial trivia session.
First: Who is the last Dallas Cowboys player to run for a touchdown, and when did that take place.
Answer: Tony Romo, one-yard run, Dec. 17, 2011, against Tampa Bay, four games ago.
Second: Who is the last Dallas Cowboys player to score a rushing touchdown from more than one yard out?
Answer: Phillip Tanner, six-yard run, Oct. 23, 2011, against St. Louis, 12 games ago, which just happened to also be the last time the Cowboys have rushed for multiple touchdowns in a game.
Oh, one more since we brought up multiple-rushing touchdown games, and if you get this one, you really deserve to pat yourself on the back: How far in the past do you have to go to find the next time the Cowboys totaled multiple rushing touchdowns in a single game:
Answer: Why, you would have to go back to Nov. 25, Thanksgiving, 2010, when your Dallas Cowboys actually ran for three touchdowns against the New Orleans Saints (Miles Austin, Marion Barber, Tashard Choice), 22 games ago.
In fact, those are the only two times the Cowboys have scored multiple rushing touchdowns in the past 35 games. And that, my friends, takes us all the way back to Game 14 of the 2009 season when Marion Barber became the last Cowboys player to rush for more than one touchdown in a game (two) when the Cowboys went into New Orleans on Dec. 19, 2009, and spoiled a Saints undefeated season that eventually wound up with a Lombardi Trophy in hand.
The point to all this?
Wouldn't it be nice come 3:05 p.m. Sunday at CenturyLink Field if the 1-0 Dallas Cowboys could run up a storm against the Seahawks who desperately will be looking for a win in front of the hometown crowd, the one that is notoriously and sustainably loud. Like, what better way to quiet those folks who consider themselves a "12th Man" than with slow, methodical, grind-it-out touchdown drives.
On top of that, I'm guessing Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo would think this would be a rather sweet luxury every once in a while to run one or even go crazy and run two in for touchdowns, meaning he would not have to have a hand in almost every touchdown the Cowboys score. His passes, along with one from Jon Kitna and three from Stephen McGee, have accounted for all but six of the Cowboys' last 42 offensive touchdowns in the past 19 games.
Now we did see signs of life in the Cowboys running game in the season-opening, somewhat soul-cleansing 24-17 victory over the New York Giants in a game two Wednesdays ago that now must seem like a month ago with these 10 full days between contests. DeMarco Murray churned, cut back and powered for 131 yards on just 20 carries against the supposedly impenetrable Giants front seven.
Murray, definitely back from last year's season-ending ankle/lower leg injury suffered in Game 13 against the same Giants, had a 48-yard run in the opener that even he admits he was a misguided cut-back away from a 73-yard touchdown run. Good stuff.
But how much better would this seemingly dazzling offense, what with the receiving likes of Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and the first-game emergence of Kevin Ogletree, along with the ability of Romo to create plays and play at a near-consistent high level, be if they could actually run the ball into the end zone – something the Cowboys did only five times last year to set a franchise single-season low after just 10 rushing touchdowns the previous season.
Oh, how you yearn for the days when the NFL's all-time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith, totaled double-digit rushing touchdowns in eight of 10 consecutive seasons, spanning from his rookie year in 1990 (11) through 1999 (11). Or that 1995 campaign when he set the Cowboys single-season record for rushing touchdowns with 25 and greatly aided the single-season team record that year of 29.
Or heck, even let's go back to 2006, when the Cowboys last rushed for more than 14 touchdowns in a season (21), the one in which they qualified for the playoffs as a wild card and then went up to Seattle for that … uh, you probably don't need to be reminded what happened there.
This running game must come to the aid of the team.
Now I'm told this might not be the game for the Cowboys to get their rushing groove on. The Seahawks are partial to playing eight guys in the box, with a single safety high. They are saying, under no uncertain terms, do we want you to run on us, walking their strong safety up tight and seeing if you can run the ball from a standard formation (two running backs, two receivers, one tight end). That means you have seven guys blocking eight the majority of the time.
The reason being, the Seahawks trust their rather sizable corners Brandon Browner (6-4, 221) and Richard Sherman (6-3, 195) to hold up in man coverage by getting physical with receivers on the line of scrimmage. And even if the Cowboys go three wide, the Seahawks nickel corner now is 10-year veteran and one-time starter Marcus Trufant (5-11, 197).
So, two things become vitally important: Miles Austin and Dez Bryant must win some of these man-coverage battles, and if the Seahawks insist on playing eight guys in the box, then Murray must account for the eighth guy – meaning he must be capable of making at least one guy miss.
Do that and the Cowboys can pose a balanced attack against a defense yielding just 43 yards rushing in the opener against Arizona. Do that, and not only will the Cowboys be able to eliminate the noted "12th Man," but also by hogging the football will keep rookie quarterback Russell Wilson from having enough opportunities under center to grow comfortable in just his second NFL game/start.
And who knows, maybe a Cowboys running back might end up running the ball into the end zone at least once for a change, and heaven forbid, maybe even twice.
All of which would take a load off Romo's shoulders and crease a smile on his face.