Commentary

Cowboys' run game stuck in neutral

NFC-worst rushing attack needs to find its footing for club to be successful

Updated: October 4, 2012, 12:22 AM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- Simply stated, the Dallas Cowboys' running game is bad right now.

Over the last three weeks, starting running back DeMarco Murray has more runs for zero or negative yards (11) than gains of five or more yards (6).

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
AP Photo/Sharon EllmanDeMarco has just 106 yards rushing in the last three weeks after gaining 131 yards against the Giants in Week 1.

Murray has just 106 yards on the ground since rushing for 131 yards on 20 carries in the Week 1 victory over the New York Giants. He had nine runs of five or more yards and just two negative runs in that game.

Overall, the Cowboys' run game ranks 30th in the NFL and last in the NFC.

The reasons for the struggles are numerous. You could start with an offensive line that is still trying to jell and hasn't been able to adjust defensive lines that are providing movement prior to the snap.

"It's all of us up front," guard Mackenzy Bernadeau said. "It's a team effort. We just have to improve on it like everything else. It's something we've got to work on and something we've got to get better at."

Then there's the fullback.

Lawrence Vickers was signed in the offseason to enhance the running game. The team wanted to re-sign fullback Tony Fiammetta -- who developed chemistry with Murray last season -- but when Vickers became available, a move was made because Vickers was considered a better player than Fiammetta. Vickers has played well at times, but the consistency has not been there.

"I'm not bothered by anything, I just want it to get better," Vickers said. "Bothered, no. What I want is for us just to do better as an offense as a whole. Whatever means we have to go through to do that, I'm willing to do that."

"

Garrett We've got to get it back where we can lean on the running game to help you out. It would help the line. It would help the quarterback. It would help the whole football team.

" -- Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett

Of course, you can also look at Murray. He noted last week that he can't remember the last time he was hit so much behind the line of scrimmage. Murray still has explosiveness and good lateral movement, but he isn't getting the yards necessary to get the offense going.

Defenses are stacking the line of scrimmage with eight- and nine-man fronts. It's hard to get a strong push when that happens. However, the Cowboys have been forced to play behind in their two losses, trailing 10-0 in Seattle and 24-7 against Chicago.

When that happens, the Cowboys become a one-dimensional passing attack. Defenses know this and will not allow the Cowboys to beat them deep down the field. When you pass more it also limits the opportunity for Murray to get going.

The solutions seem simple for the running game: Become more physical and attack. Maybe the return of center Phil Costa from a back injury could help things.

"I think it's a simple fix," Vickers said. "I think things are hard when you make them hard and sometimes you get in positions to where they're already hard. It's always how you come out of it."

Jason Garrett isn't opposed to running the ball as long as he can find someone who does it effectively. It appears he has that someone in Murray. Last year as a rookie, Murray took the NFL by storm by rushing for 897 yards on 164 carries before suffering a fractured ankle that ended his season three weeks premature.

But questions have begun to pop up because of the struggles through four weeks.

When the Cowboys don't run the ball enough, they lose -- at least under Garrett. According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Cowboys are 0-5 when they run it less than 30 percent of the time under Garrett.

Dallas ranks last in the NFL with 107 rushing yards on first-down plays. The Cowboys, like most NFL teams, want to establish themselves on first down to set up short down and distances along the way. When it doesn't happen, problems crop up.

"We've got to get it back where we can lean on the running game to help you out," Garrett said. "It would help the line. It would help the quarterback. It would help the whole football team."

Right now, it's not working. And if the Cowboys want to be successful in 2012, it has to get fixed.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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