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Week 7 Preview and More on Joseph Randle

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At Bleacher Report, I posted a Week 7 preview:

What Must Improve: Pass Protection

So much can change in a week. After the Cowboys’ Week 5 loss at the hands of the Broncos, the offense was coming off of one of the premiere games for any team in NFL history, while the defense allowed 51 points.

Fast-forward seven days, and it’s the ‘Boys’ defense and special teams that got them the victory over Washington on Sunday night. Meanwhile, the Cowboys’ top rusher was Murray with 29 yards and their top receiver was Cole Beasley with 44 yards. Yikes.

To fix the offense in Week 7, the Cowboys desperately need superior pass protection. The line allowed just one sack against the Redskins, but that’s really just because Romo got the ball out quickly and dodged trouble when it was near.

After allowing an average of 7.4 pressures in their first five games, the line yielded eight pressures on Sunday night. That’s a small increase, but let’s not forget Romo also had only 30 attempts. He was averaging 37.6 attempts coming into the game.

That means the pressure rate against Washington (26.7 percent) was higher than in Weeks 1 through 5 (19.7 percent). Here’s a breakdown of the Cowboys’ pressure rate by week.

You can see the Cowboys’ top offensive performances came in the two games—versus St. Louis and Denver—when they allowed the lowest pressure rates. That’s not a coincidence.

Against the Eagles, the Cowboys probably can’t focus on stopping just one player because the Philadelphia rushers are strong across the board. Starting outside linebackers Trent Cole and Connor Barwin have near the same pressure rate as defensive end Vinny Curry, with defensive end Cedric Thornton not far behind.

Surprisingly, though, it’s the Eagles backups who have been the most efficient. Outside linebackers Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham have dominated in limited action. Curry has seven pressures in 47 pass-rush snaps and Graham eight pressures in 69 snaps. Compare that to 11 pressures each for Barwin and Cole in 175 and 190 pass-rush snaps, respectively.

And at Dallas News, I argued that Joseph Randle is going to struggle:

Here’s a visualization of how much the 40 time matters for running backs.

Those are all backs drafted since 2000, measured by approximate value (which takes into account all stats like rushing yards, receiving yards, touchdowns, and so on). It’s kind of a hard chart to ignore.

And the backs that have succeeded despite sub-par long speed (Arian Foster and Alfred Morris today or Emmitt Smith in the 90s, for example), are all built like houses. They’re not lean runners who’ve overcome both a lack of size and a lack of speed. That just doesn’t seem to happen.

Maybe that’s why we’re seeing this sort of efficiency from the backs in 2013:

The sample size is limited, certainly, but this is a trend that we see all across the league: fast running backs excel, slow ones perish.

None of this means that Randle can’t at all succeed on a game-by-game basis. Running back production is highly dependent on the offensive line, and if the ‘Boys open up running lanes for Randle, it’s not like he can’t take what’s there. He even has a favorable matchup this week in Philly.

But if Dunbar is healthy, past running back stats—his own and those across the NFL—say he should be the man to see most of the workload. And if you’re looking to Randle to be an effective long-term option at running back for Dallas, you might want to look again.

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