What’s wrong with the Dallas Cowboys running game?

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

The Dallas Cowboys won last night. The road win in New Orleans was a welcomed sight for a team that had lost three of their previous four. But the victory against the depleted Saints didn’t exactly put all concerns to bed.

The defense still struggled to stop a fairly limited and overtly transparent Taysom Hill from running all over them. And the offense still failed to move the ball on the ground.

The Dallas Cowboys running game is cratering and it’s dragging the entire offense down with it.

The stat column will say the Dallas Cowboys rushed for 146 on 24 attempts for a 6.1 average. But those numbers are buoyed largely by Tony Pollard‘s big 58-yard run in the second half. Take that away and the Cowboys just have 88 yards on 23 carries for a 3.82 y/c. And even that is inflated by CeeDee Lamb‘s 33-yard run on that backwards pass.

This ineptitude is hardly new. The Dallas Cowboys have been struggling on the ground the better part of the season. Over the past seven weeks the Cowboys have a 30.6% success rate on the ground with a -.210 EPA. That ranks them 30th in the NFL in both categories.

Against New Orleans Zeke had a 15% SR and a horrific -4.6 EPA while Pollard had a 14% SR with a +2.9 EPA. This means 85% of the time Zeke ran the ball he hurt the team and 86% of the time TP touched the ball he hurt the team. It’s safe to say this kind of inefficiency can’t last.

But what’s the problem?

One look at Zeke and it’s clear the man is hurting Zeke was noticeably limping on Thursday and it showed in his runs. Grit and determination kept him on the field and while that’s commendable, it’s also curious. Why the Cowboys don’t put Zeke on ice for a week or two is beyond me. A healthier Zeke down the stretch sounds like something a team with lofty postseason aspirations would want. And Dallas just happens to be blessed with the best RB2 in the NFL with Tony Pollard.

Besides, it’s not like Zeke is helping right now anyway.

Since week six, passing on early downs has a success rate of 21.2% more than running the ball.

Outside of Pollard’s breakaway run, it’s clear Pollard and Zeke are both struggling to move the ball behind this offensive line. Huh, it’s almost like running backs don’t matter and their production is simply a byproduct of good O-line play….but I digress…

It’s actually not as simple as my snarky self wants it to be. The O-line isn’t totally to blame here. While they lack the dominant push we’re all used to seeing, they are winning their assignments.

At 73% overall, the Dallas Cowboys are currently top-5 in the NFL in run block win rate. Tyron Smith (80%), Zack Martin (74%) and Tyler Biadasz (71%) all rank individually in the NFL’s top-10 at their respective position groups.

Teams aren’t completely selling out to stop the run but they are clearly loading up. That’s not to say defenses are opening up a ton of opportunities deep either. While things change considerably play to play and game to game, the holes seem to be in the intermediate areas. That’s where the Cowboys must attack.

The passing game hasn’t been humming since before Dak Prescott was injured before the bye. The passing game is what this running game needs. Contrary to boomer opinion, the passing game often sets up the running game and that’s what the Cowboys need to focus on.

last month three of Dallas’ top-four pass catchers missed games. The passing attack has been far from optimal yet it’s been head and shoulders better than the ground game.

Instead of running head first into a brick wall for a 15% success rate, the Cowboys should be airing it out. With most of their weapons back it certainly plays to this team’s strengths and plays to the odds. Since week six, passing on early downs has a success rate of 21.2% more than running the ball. And much of that was with a heavily depleted receiving corps. Keep in mind, last month three of Dallas’ top-4 pass catchers missed games.

The passing attack has been far from optimal yet it’s been head and shoulders better than the ground game.

The Dallas Cowboys need the running game if they want to be postseason threats. But they need the passing game to get back to it’s dominant self first.

Must Read. 5 areas the Cowboys will vastly improve in December. light

Rest Zeke. Be opportunistic rushers with Pollard, only attacking when the numbers in the box are in your favor. Hit those intermediate passes to soften the defense and let your pass-catching play makers do the work.

Do all this and the running game will follow…

  • Published on 12/03/2021 at 13:57 PM
  • Last updated at 12/03/2021 at 14:15 PM