Dallas Cowboys: Can the running game work against the Bengals?

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports /

In the Dallas Cowboys Week 2 match-up against the Cincinnati Bengals, Kellen Moore needs to get more out of his offense. Sunday’s effort against the Tampa Bay Bucs was a total failure and simply cannot be repeated.

The Dallas Cowboys were the only NFL team to NOT get in the endzone, failing to even get inside their opponents 30. It’s safe to say nothing worked well and not much hope can be derived from Week 1 as we look forward. Or can we…

The Dallas Cowboys running game offers some hope for the Dallas Cowboys this season, but how much?

While the volume was low, the Dallas Cowboys running game did show viability when used. Ezekiel Elliott specifically, looked strong running behind the Dallas ragtag offensive line.

In a departure from the norm, it was the Dallas Cowboys running game that offered hope to fans. While Dak Prescott and Cooper Rush failed to effectively move the ball through the air, Zeke looked solid moving the ball on the ground.

Zeke’s 10 rushes for 52 yards were bigger than the vague 5.2 yards/carry indicate. His expected points/play sat at 0.26 (over the course of a season that would be a career best – likely historic) and his success rate (percentage of runs that actually increased the Cowboys scoring chances) sat at 70 percent. For perspective, just know that he was well below 50% SR last season.

As a whole, nothing went right for Dallas. The passing game was a net negative in EPA as was the rushing. The Cowboys called 29 early down passes for a SR of just 31% compared to 17 early down runs for a SR of 59%. This is a complete reversal from last season and a curious development heading into Week 2.

Was this all on Zeke or is the offensive line to thank for this efficiency?

While the sample size is dangerously small, we saw Tony Pollard struggle behind the very same O-line. This is another reversal from last season, or any season the two have played together, when Pollard far out performed Zeke.

Based on blocking, Zeke had an expected yards/carry of 4.46, giving him a RYOE (rushing yards over expected) of 0.71 according to Tej Seth at PFF. This would rank him 5th in the NFL in RYOE, indicating Zeke’s performance was top-notch.

How this translates to Sunday’s game against the Bengals is the question. The Bengals held the Steelers top RB, Najee Harris, to a yards/carry of just 2.3.

Based on the Steelers blocking, Harris was expected to average 3.64 yards meaning he had a RYOE of -1.37 (That’s really bad, folks). The good news is even though the running game was ineffective against the Bengals, the blame largely falls on the runner, not the blocking or the stellar play of the Bengals D-line. That Steeler O-line did their job, it was Harris who fell flat.

While 3.64 yards per carry would be deemed unsuccessful play in most early down game situations (it will hurt the offenses scoring chances), it offers hope that the running game can work against the Bengals as long as the RB can add extra value like Zeke did last week.

It’s a battle of strengths that will likely come down to how many men are in the box. If Cooper Rush can do enough to keep them from packing the box, Dallas should have success on the ground. As long as Zeke keeps playing like he did in Week 1.