Running the ball will lead to success. It sounds simple. It sounds archaic in today’s NFL. Sometimes it’s hard to believe, especially like right now when 4 of the top 6 rushing teams in the league are the Redskins (3-9), Bills (4-8), Raiders (4-8), and Vikings (3-8-1). While the NFL has turned almost completely into a passing league, where quarterbacks rule and 300-yard days are no longer a huge deal, the ability to run the ball is still the great equalizer.
When teams can’t pass protect, they turn to the running game to keep defensive linemen honest. When teams are turning the ball over too much, they turn to the running game to calm the offense down. When defenses can’t stop the other team, offenses turn to the running game to keep their own defenders off the field. Running the ball is increasingly important in cold or inclement weather, and that’s more significant than ever this season with the Super Bowl coming to New Jersey.
A running game doesn’t have to be the best in the league, but it does have to be a significant and reliable aspect of an offense in order for a team to be a serious contender. The Dallas Cowboys seem to finally be getting that message.
After an embarrassing defensive performance through the first 10 games of the season, the Cowboys went into the bye week with a 5-5 record. Since returning, their offense has possessed the ball more and slowed the game down, helping the defense get back on track. Through their first 10 games, the Cowboys’ average time of possession per game was 29 minutes and 8 seconds. In their last two games, they’ve averaged 30 minutes and 50 seconds (a top-10 pace). It’s not a surprise that they’ve won both games, and the running game has been a significant reason why.
Against the Giants in Week 12, the Cowboys used outside-zone runs and the speed of DeMarco Murray to move the ball on the ground. This is where Murray is at his best – when he can get in space and use his speed. He had two big runs in that game where he set up his blockers with patience and then attacked the vacated running lanes. The Cowboys finished with 107 yards (3rd highest total of the season) on 20 carries. The running game also set up play action, something the Cowboys had lots of success with against the Giants.
Against the Raiders on Thanksgiving, Murray scored 3 rushing touchdowns, and the Cowboys ran for 144 yards, their 2nd highest total of the season. The Cowboys are now 3-0 this season when they rush for over 100 yards.
The Cowboys have a lot of talent of offense, and Tony Romo has shown the ability throughout his career to put points on the board if asked to throw 40+ times a game. But because of how badly the defense has struggled this season, the Cowboys will only have a shot at the playoffs if they run the ball with consistency.