Dallas Cowboys: Walt Garrison

Why a fullback doesn't make sense for Cowboys

December, 4, 2013
12/04/13
10:55
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys seemed to make a lot of fans happy on Tuesday when they signed a fullback. It wasn’t Lawrence Vickers, which still had some upset, but at least Tyler Clutts actually has played fullback in an NFL game.

To me, however, the signing does not make a lot of sense.

The Cowboys’ pro personnel department deserves a lot of credit for finding guys. George Selvie, Nick Hayden and Jarius Wynn have all helped this year. You can go back to last year for guys like Ernie Sims, Sterling Moore and Eric Frampton. And who can forget the Laurent Robinson signing?

This is not a knock on Clutts, who was described by a personnel chief as a “workmanlike lead blocker.” He might be another solid find. I just don’t see how he fits in what the Cowboys do well in their running game.

The weather will be cold in Chicago on Monday. It could be cold when the Cowboys play the Washington Redskins. And Jason Garrett keeps saying you want to be a physical team in December. I get all of that, but what the Cowboys do best when they run the ball is spread the field with three wide receivers.

Maybe it’s the curse of Tony Fiammetta, another pro department find who helped DeMarco Murray bust out in 2011. The fullback is a revered spot around here, going back to Walt Garrison and leading us to Daryl Johnston.

But it is also a dying position with offenses designed to pass the ball more or run out of “11 personnel,” like the Cowboys.

The Cowboys offensive line is not the ‘90s version of the Cowboys’ line. They do not overpower people. The scheme is not really a power scheme. They look to create creases, not gaping holes. Nate Newton and Larry Allen are not walking through that door to do that.

Murray is averaging 5.5 yards per carry for his career when he runs out of three-wide receiver looks. This year the Cowboys have gained 531 yards on 114 carries and scored five touchdowns out of 11 personnel. Against the Raiders they had 92 yards on 11 carries in 11 personnel. Lance Dunbar’s 45-yard run came out of 11 personnel. Even without that run the Cowboys averaged 4.7 yards a pop when they ran out of three-wides.

So this brings me to Clutts. Will he play five snaps a game? Is it worth it? Was using a tight end or linebacker Kyle Bosworth at fullback that bad? Not really.

The Cowboys could have gone a number of different ways in replacing Dunbar, who was placed on injured reserve Tuesday with a knee injury. They worked out Clutts and a handful of other runners that have barely made their mark in the NFL. Would any of those guys helped? If you’re going to look for a runner, find a tested runner -- even one that has not played this year -- who might have six weeks left in him.

The better move would have been to poach from a practice squad. They did it late last year with tackle Darrion Weems. Maybe he develops into a backup. Maybe he never develops. But they at least had the chance to develop a player. They could look at any position really. In my Five Wonders post, I wondered why they don’t add a No. 3 quarterback for the stretch run. He’d be inactive for the final four games anyway, so at least get a guy in here to learn how they do things as they head into the offseason.

Maybe Clutts will help the running game, but statistics suggest otherwise.

Running game to blame for Romo's record?

August, 23, 2013
8/23/13
2:02
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Put in the historical context of Cowboys’ championship teams, Roger Staubach’s point about Tony Romo needing a better running game is right on.

Fact: The Cowboys have never won a Super Bowl without a top-five rushing offense.

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Staubach and Troy Aikman had the luxury of working behind dominant offensive lines and sharing the backfield with fellow Hall of Famers in Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith. (The Cowboys didn’t have a Hall of Fame running back on their first title team, but Duane Thomas, Calvin Hill and Walt Garrison formed a heck of a committee.)

Here’s a quick look at the Dallas running game’s NFL rankings during the Cowboys’ championship seasons:

1971 – 3rd
1977 – 4th
1992 – 5th
1993 – 2nd
1995 – 2nd

By contrast, Romo has never quarterbacked a team with a top-five rushing offense. The only time the Cowboys ranked among the top 10 rushing offenses during his tenure as a starter just so happens to be the lone season in which the franchise won a playoff game over the last 16 seasons.

The Cowboys’ rushing ranks in the Romo era:

2006 – 13th
2007 – 17th
2008 – 21st
2009 – 7th
2010 – 16th
2011 – 18th
2012 – 31st

So Romo has only had a running game good enough to contend for the Super Bowl once, right? Not so fast. The Cowboys’ rushing offense has ranked higher than the Super Bowl champions’ four times during Romo’s tenure. The Giants won the Super Bowl two seasons ago despite ranking dead last in the league in rushing.

The Super Bowl winners’ rushing offense rank over the last seven seasons:

2006 Indianapolis Colts – 18th
2007 New York Giants – 4th
2008 Pittsburgh Steelers – 23rd
2009 New Orleans Saints – 6th
2010 Green Bay Packers – 24th
2011 New York Giants – 32nd
2012 Baltimore Ravens – 11th

The game has changed since the Cowboys’ glory years. It certainly helps to have a good running game, but it’s far from a prerequisite for winning a Super Bowl.

Now, more than ever, the NFL is a quarterback’s league. The lack of a quality running game might be a reason (or an excuse) for Romo’s lack of playoff success, but his peers have found a way to overcome the same problem in recent years.

Cowboys can't expect O to take off

December, 8, 2011
12/08/11
4:29
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IRVING, Texas -- Tony Fiammetta has become something of a present-day mix of Walt Garrison, Ron Springs, Robert Newhouse and Daryl Johnston in his three-game absence due to an illness. Miles Austin’s stature has grown in his four-game absence even with the stellar play of Laurent Robinson in his place.

What the Cowboys have to guard against is thinking just because Austin and Fiammetta are back all will be well with the offense on Sunday at 7:20 p.m. against the New York Football Giants at Cowboys Stadium.

“You can’t make more than what it is,” said Jason Witten, who should benefit from Austin’s return. “At the end of the day you still have to execute and not think, ‘Oh, he’s going to get his.’ You’ve got to be ready.”

When Austin returned from a left hamstring injury at New England after missing two games, he caught seven passes for 74 yards. There is no doubt he and Tony Romo have a special connection that was built through years of practice.

Can he just step in and excel right away after a month-long absence?

“We’ll see,” Romo said. “He’s done a good job in practice and he’s a great player, so I hope so.”

While it looks doubtful that Martellus Bennett will play against the Giants because of a muscle strain in his rib cage, this will be the first time since that New England game that Jason Garrett has his mainstay offensive players available.

He will never admit that his playcalling was compromised by the absences of Austin and Fiammetta, but their returns should at least open up more dimensions.

“It’s nice to get your team back again,” Garrett said. “I think the teams that play the best are the teams that are able to absorb the adversities that happen and injuries are a part of this league. Every team has them. You have to be able to deal with them but it’s nice to get your guys back though.”

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