Five Wonders: The running game woes

September, 17, 2013
9/17/13
9:45
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- For the first time this season, Five Wonders comes after a Dallas Cowboys defeat and these are always a little more troubling because of a how-will-they-ever-win-another-game mindset that follows.

On to the wonders:

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsWill DeMarco Murray reach the 1000-yard benchmark this season?
1. I wonder if I need to re-visit my claim that DeMarco Murray will rush for more than 1,000 yards this season. I cited Bill Callahan’s involvement as the playcaller and the last time the Cowboys had an offensive line coach as playcaller came in 2006 when Tony Sparano directed the offense and Julius Jones went for more than 1,000 yards. Jones is the last Cowboys back to have a 1,000-yard season. After two games Murray is on pace for 888 yards. For a mini-wonder inside a wonder: I wonder about Murray’s vision sometimes. The easy thing to do is kick the offensive line for a poor running game. I’m not saying the blocking was great against the Kansas City Chiefs, but I believe Murray left a lot of yards on the field.

2. Sticking with the running game in the second wonder. I wonder when the Cowboys will give Joseph Randle some work. The two backup runners, Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner, have fumbled in consecutive weeks. Dunbar after a catch versus the Chiefs for the Cowboys’ first takeaway; Tanner on a run versus the New York Giants that tight end Gavin Escobar recovered. Randle was inactive against the Chiefs and didn’t get a snap against the Giants. The Cowboys wonder about his ability to pick up the pass-protection schemes, like they do for all rookies, but his speed and vision might be the best fit for this cut-back scheme. Randle showed the ability in the preseason to gain yards when only creases were there. Maybe his time is coming. I mean if the running game continues this way, don’t they just have to try something new?

3. Jason Garrett always talks about Morris Claiborne's ability to make plays on the ball. I wonder when that manifests itself because we haven’t seen much of it so far in games. He has one interception as a rookie and eight pass deflections. Maybe it happens in practice but even over the summer the number of plays Claiborne made on the ball was not more than a handful. He showed toughness by playing with the shoulder injury against the Chiefs and it will be something he has to deal with for the foreseeable future. It’s one thing to talk about what Claiborne did at LSU when he was the Jim Thorpe Award winner and had six interceptions in his last season but he has to demonstrate that ability with the Cowboys. And soon.

4. I wonder if the sports hernia injury keeping Jay Ratliff on the physically unable to perform list for at least the first six games of the season is the best thing that happened to Jason Hatcher. Hatcher, who has never had more than 4.5 sacks in a season in his career, has two in two games this season, playing the vaunted three-technique in the Cowboys’ new 4-3 scheme. If Ratliff had been healthy, Hatcher would have played the one-technique, which is more of a plugger role in this scheme than a play-making role. Hatcher was excellent throughout training camp, did well in the limited preseason work the starters received and is off to a strong start to the regular season. It’s not a bad start to a contract year for the 31-year-old. If he keeps playing this way, the Cowboys’ price to keep him will only go up and would they pay large dollars to a player of his age?

5. You can rarely go through the Wonders without a special teams’ thought. I wonder what happens if something happens to longs napper L.P. Ladouceur. In recent years the Cowboys had backup tight end John Phillips as Ladouceur’s emergency fill-in. Phillips now plays for the San Diego Chargers and I haven’t seen anybody else work as a snapper in practices. Ladouceur took a shot to the back in the opener against the Giants and was able to continue to play but he was in a fair amount of pain and stayed in constant motion between series. He wasn’t bothered at all against the Chiefs, but it’s something that needs to be watched in the future.

Todd Archer

ESPN Dallas Cowboys reporter

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