For the Dallas Cowboys, many eyes will be on stars like Tony Romo and DeMarcus Ware for Sunday's showdown for the NFC East lead against the New York Giants, but it could be third-year fullback Tony Fiammetta, who holds the key to this contest.
Though these two teams will meet once more in Week 17, this game will be very important to both team’s hopes to win the division. A Giants win, one that would snap a four-game losing streak, would put them in first place. A Dallas win would give the Cowboys a two-game lead with three games remaining.
Fiammetta’s presence could make a big difference in the Cowboys chances. He has missed the last three games due to an undisclosed illness, with symptoms of nausea and dizziness. He is listed as questionable this week, but expected to play. That could provide a huge statistical boost.
A quick look at the numbers show how much more productive the Cowboys running game has been with Fiammetta leading the way. His presence and success of the running game has also helped quarterback Tony Romo be a more efficient passer.
Without Fiammetta in the lineup, Romo has averaged more yards per game, but also attempted nine more passes per game to compensate for the lack of running production.
The key numbers to gauge Romo’s production with a good running game are his touchdown-to-interception ratio and Total QBR.
With Fiammetta clearing lanes for the running game Romo has excelled with 10 touchdowns, two interceptions and an 83.3 Total QBR. In the six games Fiammetta has missed, Romo has thrown twelve touchdowns, but also seven interceptions with a Total QBR of 62.0.
Rookie running back, DeMarco Murray, has also benefited greatly, rushing for 502 of his 872 yards with Fiammetta as his lead blocker.
By direction Murray is averaging over six yards per carry on rushes to the left and to the right, and 12 yards-per-carry on rushes up the middle when Fiammetta is lead blocking.
In fact no running back/fullback tandem has a higher yards-per-carry ratio in non-shotgun snaps this season.
So what does all this mean for Sunday?
If the Cowboys hope to win, they need to run the ball well against a Giants team that has surrendered 127 rushing yards per game this season. In the Cowboys seven wins they have rattled off 138 rushing yards per game, but just 83 rushing yards per contest in their five losses.