- Calvin Watkins, ESPN Staff Writer
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A common theme emerged from watching the wild-card weekend: Running the football helps you win games.
Of the four playoff games, the team that outrushed their opponent won three. Only Minnesota, (167-76) finished with more rushing yards than Green Bay and lost.
This is not to say teams have to force the run, but it's imperative that NFL teams forge a run game in helping them get success.
The Cowboys' running game was bad in 2012, finishing 31st in the NFL. They ranked fifth lowest in rushing plays of 4 or more yards with 150. You could say the loss of starting running back DeMarco Murray for six games with a sprained foot hurt the running attack. Without Murray in the lineup, the Cowboys relied on Felix Jones and he struggled at times.
Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner weren't trusted on a consistent basis to replace Jones, who played with two bad knees. Jones should get credit for playing through his health issues, but the run game suffered because of it.
Some of the problems are related to the inconsistency of the offensive line and the fact the Cowboys commonly trailed by two or three touchdowns, forcing them to forgo the run.
"We have to do a better job running the football, and you’ve heard me say this a lot, that balance is critical," coach Jason Garrett said when the season was over. "You want to be able to attack defenses a lot of different ways. DeMarco Murray was out for a large portion of this season, but having said that, you have to put the next guy in there and you have to be effective running it. I think it just helps your football team. It helps your offensive line, it helps your quarterback, it helps your defense, and that’s something that we’ve tried to do and we weren’t as effective as we needed to be. We have to make a commitment to being better next year."
Jones is a free agent, leaving Dunbar and Tanner as the backups to Murray. It's not even certain whether Dunbar and Tanner will return. Tanner was inactive for two of the last three weeks of the season for special teams reasons. Dunbar was active for special teams play as well, but he didn't get a carry the last five weeks of the season.