Maybe it will change as Tony Romo starts playing more in the preseason, but for one night at least, the Dallas Cowboys made good on their training camp pledge to run the ball more and run it well.
“We had fun,” running back Phillip Tanner said after the Cowboys ran for 170 yards in the preseason opener Sunday night against the Miami Dolphins. “We still have to go back and watch film and check out the things we did right and the things we did wrong. … We probably left a lot of yards out on the field.”
Couldn’t have been that many.
Tanner ran for 59 yards and a touchdown, fifth-round pick Joseph Randle led the team with 70 yards, and undrafted rookie Kendial Lawrence had a touchdown. Together, they averaged 5.1 yards.
It was an affirmation of the Cowboys’ off-season plan for improving the run by using multiple tight ends, getting bigger at center and guard and changing play-callers from head coach Jason Garrett to offensive line coach Bill Callahan, who has more of a history of running the ball.
“I think it’s a combination of a lot of things,” owner Jerry Jones said. “We are doing some play-action, like the tight ends. But we are giving the blockers a better chance compared to what we were doing last year. Some of the things that we are working on are working, like those tight-end sets.”
The Cowboys got a long look at first-round pick Travis Frederick at center, using the 312-pound rookie there for all but one series in the first half, and at Ron Leary at left guard, where the second-year player might have to start the season if Nate Livings has not recovered from knee surgery.
Tanner scored his touchdown on a 1-yard run behind Frederick, Leary and tackle Darrion Weems as the Cowboys capitalized on a red-zone turnover by Miami.
“I think running the ball is personal,” Leary said. “As an offensive line, you’ve got to take running the ball personally. It’s man-on-man. You line up, he puts his hand down, and it’s, ‘Who’s going to knock who off the ball?’ So running the ball is always personal. That’s something we put a lot of emphasis on this off-season, and it showed tonight.”
Garrett said the Cowboys are also trying to be more physical running the ball. Tanner’s goal-line touchdown came out of a tight set with all four tight ends on the field with one operating as a fullback lead.
“Those have been points of emphasis with our team,” Garrett said. “I thought that was a good start running the football.”
Last year, the Cowboys had their worst running attack in history for a 16- or 14-game season. They ranked 31st in the league, averaging only 79.1 yards per game.
It’s small wonder they wanted to change the way they approached the running game.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who are trying to dedicate themselves to getting out there and running the ball hard, and guys want to block,” Randle said. “We have a lot of good things going on for our team, and we’re working hard. That’s all that matters.”