At DallasCowboys.com, I proposed four ways the Cowboys can fix their running game. As you might have guessed, “blindly run it more often” didn’t make the list.
2. Pass the ball effectively.
When the Eagles were passing the ball more often than every other NFL team to start the millennium, they were frequently among the league’s most efficient rushing teams. Defenses were so worried about defending the Eagles’ passing offense that they conceded the run in many situations. There’s perhaps no easier way to open up running lanes for DeMarco Murray and Joseph Randle than to hit Dez Bryant deep downfield. Rushing and passing have a synergistic effect; rushing efficiently can set up the pass, but passing the ball with success can also open up the run, creating a cycle that’s very difficult to halt.
3. Run the ball with “11” personnel and from spread formations.
It seems obvious at first glance: If you want to pound the rock, bring in the big boys and line them up tight. While that might be the most effective direction to go in isolation, football is a game of competing minds. When the Cowboys go heavy, so does the defense. When they line up tight, so does the defense. Many times, such packages and formations simply increase the number of blocks the offense needs to make for a play to work.
The Cowboys have typically found the most success rushing from “11” personnel – three receivers, one running back, and one tight end. That’s probably because 1) they spread the field and 2) defenses bring in smaller nickel personnel. Last year, Dallas averaged 4.35 yards per carry (YPC) with “11” personnel, but only 3.31 YPC on all other rushes. When all is said and done, the rookie who could help the Cowboys’ rushing game the most might actually be Terrance Williams. If he can catch some passes and block well enough that the Cowboys feel comfortable using him even when they want to run the ball, the team should be able to improve their rushing efficiency.