Dallas Cowboys Know Value of Running Backs

Tony Dorsett #33, Running Back for the Dallas Cowboys during the National Football Conference East game against the New York Giants on 20 September 1987 at the Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey, United States. The Cowboys won the game 16 -14. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Allsport/Getty Images)
Tony Dorsett #33, Running Back for the Dallas Cowboys during the National Football Conference East game against the New York Giants on 20 September 1987 at the Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey, United States. The Cowboys won the game 16 -14. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Allsport/Getty Images) /

History shows just how valuable running backs are to the Dallas Cowboys and this will weigh heavily in how the franchise handles the position in the future.

There’s all kinds of talk and statistics that suggest running backs aren’t valuable to the NFL, or at least that they’re no longer as valuable as they once were. After all, it’s a quarterback-driven league today and there’s frequent changes made to the rules that open up the passing game like never before.

The Dallas Cowboys know better, and this will be evident in how the franchise handles the position moving forward.

I think the modern attitude towards running the football is juvenile and limited. The stats that commonly illustrate how running the football gains fewer yards than throwing leave so many of the dynamics of football out that I can’t believe they’re taken seriously.

Listen, I get that three yards and a cloud of dust aren’t exactly what some people want to watch.

The problem is that the game of football doesn’t care what people want to watch and until running the football becomes illegal, this game is not a passing game – it’s absolutely a running game.

As proof, I’ll simply toss the names Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith into the conversation, but they don’t represent the entirety of the discussion. Still, five Super Bowl trips with these two running backs – and four wins – is pretty tough to overlook.

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But let’s deal with the metrics that now suggest running the football might be a bad idea, and I’ll reference this piece from SportDFW’s Reid Hanson. I think the data he passes along is exactly right when it comes to the financial considerations regarding Ezekiel Elliott.

But here’s what’s missing from the numbers argument.

When throwing the football, there’s at least three things that can happen, and two of them are bad.

Let’s take a look at this:

You know how many yards an incomplete pass gets?


Further, there’s several ways to get those zero yards, which ironically adds up to some liabilities an offense doesn’t want. Here we have batted passes at the line of scrimmage, dropped passes and poor throws, which can obviously lead to an interception.

This particular zero just created some alarming math – and it’s not done yet.

Throwing the football can also create quarterback hits and sacks, both offering nothing good to the most important position that drives the leage – the quarterback.

In other words, there’s huge liability when throwing the football and doing so effectively will always be aided by running the ball. It’s the opposite of travelling in the United States or abroad in that flying is the safest way to go, but going ground is where all of the liabilities are – crashes, break downs and so forth.

Another vital part of the running back discussion needs to address the battle of attrition that football is. This is why the fourth quarter is critical. The average fan would agree with this because there’s little time left to either hold on for a win or comeback for a victory.

If you play football, the fourth quarter represents pulling out everything you’ve got left physically to end the game with the expected result.

Running the football does more to wear down opposing defenses than passing the football does. Run blocking keeps the offensive line in better shape as pushing on your opponent is always better than letting the defense push on you, which is what happens in pass protection.

Think about that part.

There’s a distinction to be made between the value of running the football versus the financial value of a given running back, like Elliott, who’s already got two NFL rushing titles in the three years he’s been in the league. If not for a six-game suspension during his second season in 2017, we’d probably be talking about rushing championships for Elliott during every season.

The Dallas Cowboys have made the posteason in each year Elliott’s won the rushing crown, by the way.

America’s Team reached the postseason in 2014 with Tony Romo at quarterback and that season’s rushing champ, DeMarco Murray, taking the ball out of the backfield.

No, the Cowboys didn’t end up handing huge money to Murray following his one big season in Dallas and they were right in not doing so, despite the outcry from many in Cowboys Nation.

I don’t think the discussion will be identical concerning Elliott, who’s in a different class than Murray was and altogether has a different skill set.

The unfortunate reality is that the era of free agency and the salary cap has created a tier of positional value that has forced franchises to prioritize positions over players, a dynamic that’s only existed for about a quarter-century at this point.

Given the recent contract signed by Demarcus Lawrence and those to be signed by Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper just down the road, there probably won’t be a way to keep Elliott.

Let’s not overlook the importance of the high-quality offensive line owned by the Dallas Cowboys at the present time and over the previous several years. Elliott and Murray both had one, as did Smith for at least the first half of his Hall of Fame career with the Cowboys.

Yes, there’s been some great quarterbacks involved in the process as well.

But no stats are going to convince me that throwing the football is the best way to move the ball in the NFL, or that all quarterbacks are more valuable than all running backs.

Troy Aikman said it best years ago when he suggested that quarterbacks get too much credit for wins and too much blame for losses.

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Aikman was spot on, just like he was on so many of those passes into lanes opened up by Smith.

  • Published on 04/22/2019 at 12:00 PM
  • Last updated at 04/22/2019 at 10:09 AM