Time To Make 'Em Pay

bad. 

Problem is, so far the Cowboys haven't discouraged anyone from selling out against the run. Look again at the numbers. Barber's gone for 28 and 26. Julius Jones has gone for 25. That's it for the 20-yard runs. 

And let's compare. Take the Giants. They have 10 runs of at least 20 yards. Nine belong to Tiki Barber. And he has as many 50-yard runs (three) as the Cowboys have 20-yard runs. He also nearly has as many runs of 10-plus yards (27) as the entire Cowboys team (31). 

What seems to be costing the Cowboys in the running game are the runs going nowhere, or worse, backwards. They have 94 of those, or 19.7 percent of their rushing attempts. That's what will hurt an average. Bad. And a lot of that is the residual effect of facing so many blitzes. 

No matter, though, the Cowboys keep hammering away. 

"I think our running game, although the numbers aren't good, has contributed significantly to our record," Parcells said. "We are leading the league in time of possession. But you choose to do things strategically not only to combat your opponents, but to attempt to assist your own people. 

"With the lack of experience we have at offensive tackle, we can't put play-after-play pressure on those guys." 

He talks of rookie Rob Petitti and Torrin Tucker. Parcells knows he must do his best with play calls to protect those guys, who in turn must protect Bledsoe. Defenses are beginning to sense that. So they continue applying pressure, almost increasing it these past few weeks to force the ball out of Bledsoe's hand. They realize the Cowboys realize the more times Bledsoe takes five- to seven-step drops, the risk rises. 

Thus, Parcells tries to assist his "own people." So he sticks with the run, the no gains and losses be damned. He realizes that if, say Jones and Barber average, say, 2.5 yards a carry, that if he runs it twice, now it's third-and-five, and the percentages of picking up third-and-five with an accurate thrower such as Bledsoe are in his favor. 

Thus, the Cowboys leading the league in average time of possession with 33 minutes, 30 seconds. The Cowboys also protecting the football, 10th in the league with 17 give-aways. The Cowboys also keeping their defense off the field, currently averaging 26:30 a working day. 

And, let's remember, 7-4 ain't all that shabby, tying them for the third best record in the NFC and for first in the NFC East. 

Some may argue that record could be better if only. . . . Parcells might argue, yeah, but it could be worse, too, if the Cowboys played a different style of offense. As he would say, there are two sides to that pancake, and just because you choose to open up the offense, to start slinging the ball all over the field and throwing deep, doesn't guarantee instant success. 

Hey, the Cowboys threw the ball a season-high 44 times on Thanksgiving. And what'd that get them? 

"The ability to control the game is what's important to me," Parcells said. "Not numbers of yards. Not carries. Not runs. Not passes. The ability to control the game, run when you want to, pass when you want to. That is most important to me." 

An interesting study revealed on ESPN.com the other day concluded how many times you ran the ball in a game was more important to winning than how much you averaged per run. In fact, from looking at the 2003 season, teams averaging the higher average per run won only 51 percent of the time - not a great discrepancy. 

And this year, here are the top six teams in rushing attempts: Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Kansas City. What do they have in common? Each team has at least seven victories. 

Maybe controlling the game is important. 

That's what the Cowboys must do come this expected blustery Sunday at Giants Stadium. And while they are doing so, they just need to bust something, especially in the running game. Just make the Giants pay for run blitzing; for blitzing Bledsoe. 

"Teams are trying to force us to be one-dimensional," said Bledsoe of all the run blitzes designed to discourage a team from banging their head against the wall. But not the hard-headed Cowboys. They keep pounding the rock, as they say in the business, rarely discouraged

MICK SHOTS

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