Commentary

Cowboys need more from running game

As injuries mount, Felix Jones, Tashard Choice and DeMarco Murray must step up

Updated: September 21, 2011, 12:54 PM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

Monday night, for the first time ever in the Jason Garrett regime, it's time for the Dallas Cowboys to run the football effectively.

It's not about running more. It's about doing something with the ball when carrying it.

The Cowboys have health issues with their quarterback, top receiver and quite possibly the starting center. It could make the passing game shaky Monday night against the Washington Redskins.

[+] EnlargeFelix Jones
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesFelix Jones hasn't emerged as a consistent threat in the running game and now is dealing with a shoulder injury.

Time to run.

In the first two weeks of the season, the Cowboys faced two strong run defenses in the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers.

This is what they've done: Next to nothing.

The Cowboys are the only team in the league without a run of 10 or more yards. Of their 48 rushes, 13 have gone for four or more yards, last in the league. And 26 of those carries have gone for fewer than two yards.

Overall, the Cowboys average 54.5 yards per game, 31st in the league.

The team employs Felix Jones, Tashard Choice, DeMarco Murray and Phillip Tanner on the roster.

This is supposed to be the year where Jones emerges as the top threat in the run game. But all we've seen is 2.7 yards per carry. Now Jones is dealing with a health issue of his own, a dislocated shoulder suffered in the first quarter against the 49ers on Sunday.

Choice is the No. 2 back that wants more playing time. In two weeks, he's averaging just 1.1 yards per carry.

Murray was drafted in the third round to challenge Choice. With eight carries, Murray has averaged 2.6 yards.

Tanner is a rookie who isn't getting time with the offense.

You can talk about the offensive line being an issue. Starting two rookies -- Tyron Smith at tackle and Bill Nagy at guard -- along with center Phil Costa, who had one career start coming into the year, could be part of the problem. Costa and Nagy are also battling injuries. The projected line would look like a shell of itself if those two can't play Monday.

One thing the Cowboys, especially Garrett, have said is that the young players are not afraid of the moment -- which is good, but doesn't necessarily mean they're good at this state.

Garrett talks about balance with his offense and doesn't like the perception that he's not trying to run the ball.

"You have to keep trying to stick with it," Garrett said. "You have to try to be persistent. Balance is important. I think it helps the offensive linemen if you continue to try to run the ball and try to get into those guys and play downhill with them a little bit."

The Cowboys gave up on a power runner in Marion Barber and big linemen who couldn't move anymore in Marc Colombo, Andre Gurode and Leonard Davis for more athletic types.

Smith is tall, athletic and powerful.

Nagy and Costa are small and athletic. All three can get to the outside on screens and to the second level.

The running backs are athletic with good speed, but not powerful enough to do what Barber did in his prime. Jones talked all summer about being able to sustain 18 to 20 carries per game.

We haven't seen it yet, but it's believe he can do it.

There are too many ifs with the run game, that Monday night at Cowboys Stadium, the Cowboys need to get some answers.

Real answers.

"You have to understand that if we're not running the ball very well, we have to find ways to make positive plays on offense," Garrett said.

That's true. But Garrett can't be cute like he was with wide receiver Miles Austin on that third-and-2 from the 49ers' 28 on Sunday. It resulted in his most accomplished receiver losing a yard and fumbling while not being at 100 percent.

Garrett had three active running backs on Sunday. Use them.

Monday night when he does use them, they need to run effectively.

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.

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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