By Jonathan Bales
3:12 pm on November 27, 2012
Jonathan Bales is a special contributor to SportsDayDFW.com. He’s the founder of The DC Times and writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He’s also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People. He can be reached at email@example.com
You can follow him @TheCowboysTimes.
The Cowboys have converted a first down on 75.0 percent of their rushing plays with three or fewer yards-to-go for a first down, ranking them first in the NFL. I searched long and hard for a rushing stat in which the Cowboys excel, and that’s about all I could find (and it’s more likely due to a small sample than anything else). Overall, there’s no doubt that, even with the decreased importance of rushing in the NFL, the Cowboys simply won’t reach their offensive potential until they rush the ball more efficiently.
There are a variety of ways in which the Cowboys might be able to improve their ground attack, the easiest and most immediate of which is to change the nature of the rushes. The Cowboys have been unbelievably “vanilla” in all aspects of their 2012 offense, and the running game is no exception. Whereas we saw hundreds of counters and draws from the ‘Boys over the past three seasons, the majority of the running plays this season have been dive plays. Here’s the full breakdown:
Dive: 57.2% (3.27 YPC)
Draw: 14.8% (4.36 YPC)
Power: 18.2% (2.95 YPC)
You can see that “straight runs”—dives and powers—comprise 72.0 percent of the Cowboys’ rushes. Dallas has totaled 3.2 YPC on such rushes, suggesting they might not be the best bet for the offense. It’s true that dives in particular are often used in short-yardage situations, but probably not to the extent that you think. Of the Cowboys’ 120 dive plays, only 23 (19.2 percent) have been with fewer than four yards-to-go for a first down. In comparison, 67 of the dives (55.8 percent) have come with at least 10 yards-to-go for a first down, suggesting the poor efficiency is due more to the play type and the personnel than game situations.
The Cowboys have actually been quite effective on all other run types, but they haven’t dialed them up enough for the impact to be meaningful. The ‘Boys have averaged 7.2 YPC on counters since 2009 and over a full yard more on draws than all other runs, but together they make up only 17.3 percent of the offense’s running plays this year. The Cowboys’ tosses have gone for 10.0 YPC, but they’ve run only nine of them.
Dallas will undoubtedly benefit from the return of running back DeMarco Murray, but the easiest way to improve the running game is to change the structure of it. With more draws, counters, and other “deceptive” runs, the Cowboys will rise dramatically from their current 32nd place rank in rushing efficiency