Offense needs to 'establish brand'

One thing Jason Witten enjoys about working the Dallas Cowboys’ annual early Thanksgiving event for needy folks at The Salvation Army is the honesty of the people he’s serving meals.

The Cowboys’ commitment to the run -- or lack thereof -- was one the points of contention made to Witten while he was serving turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie Tuesday. Tashard Choice seemed eager to engage in the topic when it was raised.

“I think Tashard was drawing up plays on the back of paper plates,” Witten said.

There certainly weren’t many running plays drawn Sunday on the chalkboards in the visitors’ locker room at Lambeau Field. The Cowboys’ trio of tailbacks got a grand total of six carries in the final three quarters of the 17-7 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

The Cowboys’ abandonment of the run played a major role in the Packers’ dominance of time of possession. Green Bay controlled the ball for almost 36 minutes.

“I think that’s an area where you look at and say that running the ball is a big part of that,” Witten said. “We’re in a unique situation with our line, such a powerful line, and we have so many backs that are creative and unique and you can get the ball to them in a lot of ways.

“That’s just something where we’ve all got to do a better job. We’ve got to block better, keep ourselves in better situations down and distance wise more than anything. Then you just get more plays and more opportunities to do a better job in the running game.”

The Cowboys rank eighth in the league in rushing (130.0 yards per game). That’s largely because the franchise has its first back-to-back 200-yard rushing games in three decades during the first month of the season.

The team’s two top tailbacks suffered injuries during those games, with Marion Barber straining his quadriceps against the New York Giants and Felix Jones spraining his knee against the Carolina Panthers. The running game hasn’t been the same since, failing to hit 100 yards in three of six games.

But both backs are close to 100 percent, at least according to Wade Phillips. We haven’t seen much evidence of Jones’ usual explosiveness since his two-game layoff. Barber appeared to have his burst back in Green Bay, rushing for 27 yards on four carries in the first quarter. But he got only one more carry the rest of the day.

And then there’s Choice, who has been a bit player since rushing for 92 yards and a TD on eight carries in the overtime win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

There’s a chicken-and-egg argument about whether the Cowboys didn’t run the ball enough against the Packers because of bad down-and-distance situations or whether the bad down-and-distance situations were a result of not running the ball enough. But it’s tough to debate the point that the Cowboys need to be a dominant running team to be considered legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

“Early in the year, it was kind of establishing the brand,” Witten said. “Something we talked about [was] being a team that imposes their will with three good backs and a strong line. We haven't done a good job with that.”