The Cowboys have just two runs of 10 yards or more this season. No team has fewer.
“We have to do a better job running the football. We were behind the chains way too much in this ballgame and kind of digging out,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "You have procedure penalties and holding penalties and you see a lot second-and-12, second-and-16 and first-and-20, and those are hard drives to overcome.
"We’re at our best when we’re balanced. We’re at our best when we control the line of scrimmage and run the football because it gives us great looks down the field to throw it and make the big plays down the field that we've made in this offense over a number of years."
The Cowboys will need to get more from their running game over the next 8-10 weeks while Romo recovers from a broken left collarbone. The best way to make backup quarterback Brandon Weeden comfortable is to create manageable third-down situations for him, and the way to do that is to have success running the ball on first and second down. It's potentially good news for Randle owners but at the same time expect defense to perhaps focus on the Cowboys run game even more and make Weeden beat them.
In Sunday’s 27-26 win against the New York Giants, Tony Romo threw 45 passes, his most in a game since 2013. Last year the most he threw in a game was 41 times in an overtime win against the Houston Texans.
But game situations dictated what looks like a larger-than-expected reliance on the passing game.
The Cowboys closed the first half in a two-minute situation and closed the game with 12 passes on their final two drives to overcome a 10-point deficit with 8:01 to play.
“I thought when we ran the ball it was efficient,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “We’d like to pop a few long runs, but I didn’t think that our running game was a concern at all. There were some things that were there. It was just a weird game.”
The Cowboys running was one of the bigger fantasy questions coming into the season and, as expected, Randle looks like he's going to lead the way in terms of carries. Randle carried 16 times for 65 yards. Darren McFadden had six carries for 16 yards. The Cowboys’ 80 yards on 23 carries on Sunday would have been a season low in 2014. Their lowest total last season was 92 yards on 25 carries in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
Joseph Randle is listed as the starting running back on the first depth chart released by the Dallas Cowboys in advance of Sunday’s opener against the New York Giants. But both coach Jason Garrett and vice president Stephen Jones admit they have not yet decided who will start.
It could be Randle, who was the backup last season to the departed DeMarco Murray, who ran for a team-record 1,845 yards. It could be free-agent signee Darren McFadden, who is looking for a fresh start after a disappointing and injury-dotted seven years in Oakland. Or it could be Christine Michael, the newly-acquired 2013 second-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks who came over in a trade Sunday.
“We won’t outline anything before the game,” Garrett said. “We’ll give each of those guys a chance over the course of the week to show us that they’re worthy of opportunities.”
Jones said the starter will likely be decided in practice this week.
As McFadden has stayed healthy and the team added Michael to the mix, Randle's stock has slipped significantly over the last couple of weeks. Owners should take a long-term approach with Randle, since it's not likely that McFadden stays healthy for a full 16-game season. The beat writers seem to think that Michael was added for depth, not to become the starter. That said, Randle is much less attractive than he was a month ago.
After nine organized team activities, three minicamp practices, 20 training camp practices in Oxnard, California, two more in Texas and four preseason games, the Dallas Cowboys still don’t have an idea how their running back situation will shake out in 2015.
For a team that thrived on the success of the running game in 2014 with DeMarco Murray leading the NFL with 392 carries and 1,845 yards, the Cowboys will go into the regular-season opener Sunday against the New York Giants relatively blind.
It’s a stunning difference in how the Cowboys entered 2014 with their running game.
The story points out if the Cowboys’ picture was clear at running back, they wouldn’t have felt the need to add Michael. His résumé is not so plush that he is automatically better than Randle, McFadden or Dunbar. He can be a piece to the puzzle, however, taking four tailbacks to a game is a luxury, not a necessity. The story also points out the competition never really took off as maybe the team hoped due to injuries in camp.
Wednesday, September 2, 2015, 2:58pm
The Cowboys are going to split carries between Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden and change-of-pace back Lance Dunbar. None of them has done enough to separate themselves from the pack, and take on a workhorse-type role that DeMarco Murray had last season.
None of them, in other words, is likely going to carry it 20-plus times a game. Instead, Randle could fall in the 10-15 carry range with McFadden slightly below that.
“I’m just going to go in there and be as productive as a I can and take full advantage of the opportunity that I get,” Randle said. “And let the rest fall where it may.”
Added McFadden: “[A committee approach] is something I’ve done pretty much throughout my career, at school [in Arkansas] or being with the Raiders. It’s one of those deals, it’s the NFL, it’s a long season. You have to be able to have two backs that can go in there and be able to tote it the way you need them to tote it.”
We still believe that Randle is the back to own in the Dallas backfield, mainly because McFadden can't be trusted to stay healthy. But given Randle's 4th-round price, McFadden may be the better value since he's going in the 8th-10th round, depending on the draft. This is going to be a fantasy headache for most of the season, especially if everyone stays healthy.
After letting league-leading rusher DeMarco Murray go in free agency, and not making a move for any replacement, or trading for a guy like Adrian Peterson, the Cowboys seem determined to go with their running back by committee.
In Saturday’s game against the Vikings, Joseph Randle started and had six carries for 15 yards. Darren McFadden took the second quarter and added four carries for 37 yards. While it may not be Murray, getting 10 for 52 out of the pair of them is a solid start.
“I thought they both did a good job,” quarterback Tony Romo said, via Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com. “I thought the looks were a little tougher for Joe early on with the way they played it, then we got to some runs we could attack them with and it opened up some holes. Darren obviously did good on those and made some explosive runs.
“But sometimes the dirty ones are some of the best ones too.”
So as much as it made sense that they might pursue more of a bell-cow back, Jones seemed content going with the duo into the regular season.
“I see how we can line up certainly this coming week but I see how we can line up against the Giants, yes, I do,” Jones said. “You say, ‘Well, couldn’t you see it before?’ Now, I saw the same things before. I expect [Randle] to give us and has the talent to make some of the plays we saw him make tonight. I certainly know [McFadden] can make them and [Lance] Dunbar can do the same. If they’re healthy, I’ll take their skill and what they can bring and go to the game against the Giants and won’t ask for any more.”
Going with that approach is going to put more pressure on Romo and their offensive line this year, but they seem comfortable with that for the time being, the story pointed out. Maybe more importantly, it's going to be a headache for fantasy owners. Add Lance Dunbar in the mix, especially in the passing game, and there's potential for a three-headed backfield. Randle is still our pick to have the most fantasy value out of the three.
On the topic of the Cowboys' RBBC approach...
If you're seeking knowledge for your fantasy football draft, well, peace be with you.
Dallas isn't relenting on this. It's not a bluff. As it stands right now, this will be a committee in the purest NFL form. The Cowboys are adamant that their elite offensive line can be the glue that elevates a collection of parts into a greater whole.
Ultimately, what we saw Saturday night against the Vikings is likely a facsimile of what to expect this season. Joseph Randle came in and ended up playing the role of the guinea pig, with the Cowboys probing some inside runs for signs of weakness, then ending up sputtering with some third-and-long situations that weren't conducive to running. Lance Dunbar got one carry that went one yard. And then once Dallas identified some soft spots, Darren McFadden came in and cleaned up with 37 yards on four carries. Had this been a regular-season game, it's highly likely that Dallas would have ridden McFadden's hot hand as the lead, while mixing in Randle in both the run and pass, and then getting some situational opportunities to Dunbar. It wouldn't have played out that way because Randle is the No. 2 – it would have played out that way because he did the grunt work early and set the stage for McFadden.
That's how committees like this work.
Recent play has McFadden trending up with Randle trending downward. This has the makings of a full on committee, which means that the team is likely to ride the hot hand in any given week. This is not conducive to success in fantasy football, so we wouldn't recommend drafting Randle at his current ADP (#42). McFadden is the better value in the 9th or 10th round, but he may go early given the way things are trending. Keep in mind that his durability is a major question mark given his extensive injury history.
Deep in Vikings territory, McFadden took a stretch handoff to the left side and made two explosive cuts that extended the play, giving Dallas a first-and-goal situation inside the Minnesota 10. The carry spawned a thousand Vines wondering if McFadden is finally back. It beat his previous best on the night, a 13-yard carry with 13:59 to go in the second.
"I think that what you saw was vintage McFadden," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said after the game, per the Dallas Morning News. "You saw that acceleration. You saw his abilities."
The question with McFadden will always be health. There is no doubt that plays like these are still in his arsenal, but with a body that has betrayed him so many times, is it something that can be counted on?
While Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett won't go that far, he'll agree that it was a step in the right direction; a step away from uncertainty.
We're expecting Randle to be the lead back, but he didn't help his cause with just 15 yards on six carries. The Cowboys will use a committee to a certain extent, and McFadden's health is not to be trusted. but if he's healthy and active on game day, it may be difficult to trust Randle, either.
Nobody has separated themselves yet and it remains a question of how good and effective this Cowboys running game by committee can be.
Joseph Randle has shown flashes early in his career that he can be a difference-making player in the league, and is eager to prove he can handle the load. The Cowboys have raved how mature and professionally Randle has handled himself so far in camp on the field.
“He’s been on point with not only his run stuff, but his pass-game stuff,” running backs coach Gary Brown said. “I always try to tell him … ‘who are you without the ball? I know what you can do with it, what can you do without it?’
“We want to be complete football players. We don’t just want to be runners. Guys who are just runners don’t last in the league very long. We can get anybody to go out here and just run. We want guys who can catch the ball, pass protect, protect the football, do the things that are necessary to make an offense run.”
Darren McFadden, meanwhile, has shown the burst that made him the fourth overall pick in the 2008 draft. He said he feels he is past the hamstring issues that slowed him most of camp. McFadden showed last season he can get through an entire season healthy, albeit in a more limited role with the Oakland Raiders. He had 155 carries last season, fewer than 10 a game.
Based on Brown's comments, it sounds as if Randle is handling himself well in practice. We believe he's the team's best option as a primary runner, but as long as McFadden is healthy, he'll get some touches.
Wednesday, August 26, 2015, 5:51pm
The veteran running back played four snaps vs. the 49ers. He carried three times for four yards and caught one pass for three yards.
"I feel good. I came out yesterday and was just a little sore," McFadden said after Wednesday's morning walk-through. "But I definitely feel good and I'll be out there today."
McFadden played in all 16 games last season. It was the first time during his seven years in Oakland that he didn't miss a game because of injury. He said Wednesday that he's not looking to be cautious with his workload during the preseason or regular season. McFadden also said he "definitely" expects to play Saturday in Dallas' third preseason game.
Tony Romo is expected to get his first action, albeit briefly, but this game will mean more for the running backs: Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar. None played last week against the San Diego Chargers and all three will be available Sunday.
Nobody will run away with the job, but they can at least ease the fears some have about the position group with a positive showing, the story said. But, fantasy owners will hopefully be able to get a look into the future in terms of which one has the most value for their team. The odds-on favorite is Joseph Randle, of course, but all three are expected to have some role in the offense.
Cowboys writer Bryan Broaddus: I like what I saw from Darren McFadden in his first extensive work during the various team periods in which he took snaps. He looked decisive and committed to what he was handed from this Rams defense in the running game. He was in position to execute the check downs when needed and when asked to step up for pass protection, he was up to the task.
McFadden is perfectly capable of producing behind the team's talented offensive line, but we believe Joseph Randle will be more effective and is more likely to stay healthy.
The running back competition predicted at the start of camp will take a little more time to get going for the Cowboys.
Darren McFadden made his camp debut Saturday but will be worked into practice slowly. Lance Dunbar also returned Saturday, but he will be worked in smartly too. Dunbar took the team drills Saturday and showed no signs of worry with the oblique strain.
Running backs coach Gary Brown predicted "hellified running" with his top guys available.
"As far as I'm concerned, we're right on schedule, as far as having a back or backs ready to go for the New York Giants," owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. "I'm not in any way anxious. When we practice the running game, we practice the physical aspect of it. It takes a lot of players to make the running game work -- not just the back."
Joseph Randle is the leader to be the Cowboys' lead back, but he has had more than 10 carries in a game just three times, and he has not averaged more than 3.4 yards per carry in those contests. McFadden hasn't averaged more than 3.4 yards per carry since 2011. Dunbar has 80 carries in his first three years. But for now, the story said, the Cowboys are going with what they've got at the RB position, saying only they will continue to evaluate talent. Gus Johnson signed as an undrafted free agent and scored a TD in the team's last preseason game, but now has a slight separated shoulder. If the injuries continue to pile up, Dallas may not have a choice but to bring in someone from the outside.
Finally, the Dallas Cowboys will get to see what they have in running back Darren McFadden. McFadden said Saturday after the team's morning walk-through practice that he'll be full-go for the first time in practice this evening and will take part in team drills.
McFadden has missed the first 11 practices of training camp while recovering from a strained hamstring he suffered the week before the club's first practice in California. McFadden also missed several practices during the Cowboys' offseason practices while nursing a different hamstring injury.
During Monday's practice, yet another Dallas Cowboys running back missed practice when Joseph Randle sat out with an oblique injury. With Darren McFadden Lance Dunbar on the shelf, it was undrafted free agent back Gus Johnson who got the call over 2014 draft pick Lache Seastrunk. In his first real opportunity with the first team offense, Johnson shined.
Johnson looked good throughout practice, and he stood out specifically during the team's goal-line drills. At 5-foot-10 and 215 pounds, Johnson has an ideal build for short-yardage situations. His build is also unique to the rest of the Cowboys' depth chart at running back.
"Gus did a good job yesterday. We had a short yardage and goal line," Tony Romo said on KTCK-AM 1310 via the Dallas Morning News. "It's hard because you don't have live so you don't have the chance to show your ability to break a tackle, maybe get through a gap with a thud, not being a thud, it's not a tackle. I just think he showed a little bit when we were live yesterday in some of the shortage. He's got a chance."
Johnson was the 2014 Southland Conference Player of the Year after rushing for 1,683 yards and 23 touchdowns on 256 carries. Over the course of his collegiate career, Johnson averaged 6.2 yards per carry and finished with 51 rushing touchdowns and 3,892 rushing yards. With all the injuries and not really a clear-cut RB1 on the team, it's not out of the question the team could ride an unknown who steps up in camp.
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