Since the start of the 2012 NFL regular season, only the Arizona Cardinals have run for fewer total yards and yards per carry than the Dallas Cowboys, and Dallas is the NFL's only team that has run the ball fewer than 400 times during that 18-game span.
In this league and this era, you can succeed on offense without balance, but the Cowboys' running game has become so stagnant that it is jeopardizing the team's chances in the NFC East.
Based on the way he burst onto the scene in 2011, DeMarco Murray was supposed to become Dallas's first true star back since Emmitt Smith, but he has lacked consistency and durability early in his career and has gone over 100 yards just once in his last 16 games.
Head coach Jason Garrett was pinned with a significant amount of blame for the lack of offensive balance in Dallas last season, but things were supposed to change under new play caller Bill Callahan. After all, Callahan is an offensive line coach who put together some solid rush offenses in Oakland earlier in his career.
New play caller, new offensive approach, same old problems.
Murray isn't producing up to snuff
There's plenty of blame to go around, but Murray himself has to do a better job if he's going to be a quality No. 1 back going forward.
Let's go back to the opener against the Giants. This has to be more than a three-yard gain:
The blocking is solid there, but Murray simply failed to hit the hole with enough force.
He's also not winning enough battles in the open field in order to reach the second and/or third layer of opposing defenses. In the second quarter against the Giants, he found himself one-on-one with Antrel Rolle in the open field, but he literally fell on his face:
It's also fair to question Murray's vision. I understand that right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau was pulling and paving a small path—large enough, maybe, for a small gain—here, but Murray should have seen the space left of Jason Witten and bounced outside.
He settled for a three-yard gain behind Bernadeau there, but there's no doubt he would have picked up at least a few extra yards had he broke away.
And in the Chiefs game Sunday, I can't for the life of me figure out why he'd power forward into a scrum for three yards rather than cut right into the open field...
He settled for only three yards there, too.
Maybe Murray needs a fullback, which he had when he rushed for a team-record 253 yards and a 91-yard touchdown in his first quasi-full game in relief of Felix Jones in 2011. And with Tony Fiammetta leading the way, Murray totaled 662 yards from scrimmage in the five starts that followed that record-breaking effort.
Or maybe that was an anomaly and he's just an ordinary third-round pick. Maybe he's another Julius Jones. Here's what I wrote when comparing Jones and Murray before the 2012 season:
How does Murray avoid becoming another Julius Jones, who had more than 800 yards despite starting only seven games as a Dallas rookie in 2004 before falling off a cliff in '05? Murray's road has already hit a fork that will soon see him going the Emmitt route or the Julius route.
ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon asked that question about Murray on Tuesday, noting the similarities:
Jones rushed for 722 yards and seven touchdowns in the final six games of his rookie season, including performances of 198, 150 and 149 yards. That, however, was the high point of his career.
In his second season, Jones only had one 100-yard game. [He] rushed for a total of 3,484 yards and 18 touchdowns during his four-year Dallas tenure, falling far short of the elite expectations his rookie stardom set.
Those numbers might compare favorably to Murray's when his rookie deal expires next season. ... Murray, who has rushed for 1,671 yards and six touchdowns in 25 career games, has a grand total of one 100-yard outing in 16 games since then. He’s been held under 50 yards seven times during that span.
Of course, the Cowboys have other options. The problem is that Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner don't appear to be better options, and both have fumbled already this year. They also spent a fifth-round draft pick on promising Oklahoma State product Joseph Randle, but there are pass-protection concerns there.
Besides, the problem goes far beyond Murray.
The run blocking has been extremely inconsistent
And the bad...
Followed by the bad...
The offensive line has done a solid job in pass protection and has had some nice moments blocking for Murray and Co., but for the most part, it has failed to open up enough holes to give Garrett and Callahan enough confidence to run consistently.
Which brings us to...
Inconsistent play-calling is still a problem
I understand that the run wasn't overly successful in the first three quarters Sunday in Kansas City, but the fact that the 'Boys called 17 passes and zero runs in the fourth quarter of a one-score game is absolutely ridiculous.
Murray was finding a groove in the first quarter against New York. The blocking was good and he was picking up nice gains.
Here's some top-notch blocking on an 11-yard run...
Followed by the same thing on a seven-yard run on the very next play...
The Cowboys followed that up with seven consecutive passing plays, the seventh of which resulted in an interception. And later in that game, with a six-point lead in the fourth quarter, they inexplicably ran six straight passing plays.
They also give up too early.
Here, we see superb blocking on a five-yard gain from Murray against the Chiefs:
Two plays later, they'd run him again but only gain a yard. They followed that up with six straight passes and—surprise!—a punt.
The good news is that Garrett admits they haven't been running it enough. The bad news is he hasn't corrected that problem during his entire tenure in Dallas. What makes anyone think they'll finally smarten up now?
It's too bad, really, because all it means is more pressure on Tony Romo and the passing game. And the last thing the Cowboys need is more pressure on their quarterback.