This is the third post in my ongoing series reviewing the Dallas Cowboys roster position by position.
Might as well just call this a position preview of DeMarco Murray and his unheralded, unproven backups, but that’s neither here nor there.
Evaluating last year’s ground game as a whole is pretty laughable. As I’ve said many times, there’s a reason Romo had to chunk it 650 times last year. The Dallas Cowboys had just eight rushing touchdowns in 2012, and one of those came from Romo. How bad is that? To put it into perspective, in the NFL there were 10 different players who single-handedly outscored the entire Cowboys’ running game. Now here’s the funny part, last year’s production was actually a step up from the FIVE rushing scores they had in 2011. Still, these numbers must improve. There are only 1 maybe 2 teams in this league that can win without a consistent running game, and I bet you they have better pass blocking offensive lines.
Its interesting though, everyone wants to talk about a lack of red zone production for the Dallas offense. Most team’s red zone production comes from their running game. Of the Cowboy’s meager eight rushing scores, only one occurred outside the 20 – a 22-yard run from the since departed to the Eagles Felix Jones against the Ravens. The Cowboys have to improve when they get inside the 20 and it starts with a better rushing attack.
DeMarco Murray: No one questions this man’s toughness or ability to play the position. But there’s this nagging injury bug that seems to keep creeping up on him. Obviously, the Cowboys are hoping Murray can stay healthy – something he has yet to do in his first two years, missing a total of nine games. Emmitt Smith missed seven in his 13 seasons in Dallas. Now when he’s on the field, Murray is the closest option the Cowboys have for a balance between the run and passing game. I just don’t see another Cowboy back that is able to shoulder the load like he does when he’s healthy. Of the nine games Murray played completely last year, the Cowboys won five. I raved about what his huge night against the Giants in Week 1 meant for this team in my piece on the offensive line, but he also played a big role in the comeback win over the Bengals later in the year. The Cowboys need him to be a consistent producer in the running game, but he first needs to be a consistent presence on the field.
Joseph Randle: The Cowboys have high hopes for the player they projected as a third round draft pick and were able to snag in the fifth. Randle does have a good history of running the ball into the end zone and as mentioned earlier that’s a need here. When you look at the stat sheet, the kid scored 40 touchdowns in two seasons as the OSU feature back. There’s an outside chance that we could have an interesting battle, especially considering Murray’s injury history. At most, I would think they might bring Randle in from time to time to spell Murray, which is what I think they should do anyway. I’ve heard a notion tossed around that Randle should be the back in the red zone, and who knows, maybe that’s what will happen, but I don’t know if it’s a lack of physicality from Murray that is holding this team’s red zone running production back. But, training camp started yesterday and we won’t know much more about Randle outside of his college numbers till some pads come on.
Lance Dunbar: had an impressive summer and shows the most burst out of any back on the roster. As a native of Denton, Texas who watched Dunbar put up all kinds of highlights at UNT, I’d like to see my hometown guy get involved, but I don’t know if it would be in any bigger capacity than a change of pace, third down guy, or a “scat” back.
Phillip Tanner: might figure himself into the mix as well. He seems like a solid player, but that’s about all we know after one year of work where he didn’t get on the field too often.