Through the first 2 Cowboys preseason games, one thing that has jumped out at me is how much more effective the run game has been compared to last season. This is an excellent sign for this Cowboys team, as the run game is going to be needed for this team to contend for the NFC East this season.
The fact is, last season the Dallas Cowboys rushing attack was the worst it has been in team history in terms of yards per game (about 79 yards per game). As a team, Dallas rushed for just 1265 total yards, averaged just 3.6 yards per carry, and only scored 8 rushing touchdowns. That might be solid if we were talking about one player, but as a team those number stink. This ineffectiveness in the run game allowed teams to pin their ears back and rush Tony Romo and, with the injuries that wiped out our offensive line last year, they were getting to him quickly. This pressure caused early passes, bad decisions, and many of Romo’s league leading 19 interceptions.
The numbers in the rushing game through 2 preseason games look much better than those from last season. The Cowboys running backs so far have rushed for 235 yards (127.5 per game) and averaged 4.52 yards per carry and 3 touchdowns. Most improved of the backs so far appears to be Phillip Tanner, who has rushed for 84 yards on 17 carries (4.94 avg.) and 1 TD, and Lance Dunbar, with 43 yards on 7 attempts (6.14 avg.). Tanner has been solid between the tackles and Dunbar has provided some very explosive runs. Then you have the rookie 5th round pick from Oklahoma State, Joseph Randle, who has 86 yards on 21 carries (4.1 avg.) and 1 TD. All of these 3 have put themselves in contention for 2nd string running back this season. From the looks of it, Dallas has a 4 very talented running back on their roster, and that is a great problem to have.
Another thing this improved effectiveness in the running game hints at is an improved offensive line. Or healthy offensive line, both work here. The line Dallas was forced to put on the field at times in 2012 put Tony Romo and Demarco Murray in what could be considered a “hazardous work environment”. There is still a lot of work to be done with the line (like finding a guard), but I am seeing potential up front. And I also want to mention here that I love rookie Travis Fredrick, this guy is going to be incredibly valuable to this organization going forward.
While I do understand this is a very small sample size, this newfound ability to run the ball consistently has gotten me excited. In order to contend we are going to need a solid, consistent running game to take pressure off of Tony Romo and our receivers. Continuing to running the ball effectively through the regular season is going to be crucial to the team’s success, and this will certainly be something to keep an eye on as the preseason advances.