Coach Jason Garrett left training camp declaring that the Dallas Cowboys were committed to running the ball more and running it better than they did in 2012 when they fielded the worst rushing attack in team history.
Two games into the season, Garrett is again declaring a renewed commitment to the running game.
The Cowboys (1-1) head into Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Rams (1-1) with a decidedly lopsided attack, 91 passes compared to just 39 rushes for 124 yards.
The average of 62 rushing yards per game is worst than last year’s historically woeful mark of 79.1.
But while much of the talk this week has centered on the problems with the running game and what the Cowboys can do to have more success on the ground, the real chicken-and- egg issue might be with the play-calling.
“We’ve got to call more [run plays],” Garrett said one day after Sunday’s 17-16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, when the Cowboys not only ran the ball just 16 times, but ended the game with 12 consecutive passes.
Garrett’s talk of more running plays doesn’t carry the weight of past years, considering that he gave up play-calling in the off-season to offensive coordinator Bill Callahan.
Still, Callahan said the Cowboys are committed to running more and running better this season.
“We’re working diligently to that end of putting together a run game and putting together our players and fitting the chemistry and then definitely calling it and getting it executed on the field,” Callahan said. “We’ve got to do a better job. I’ve got to do a better job of calling more runs.”
Callahan is calling plays in the NFL for the first time since he was the head coach of the Oakland Raiders in 2002-2003. While many believed his background as an offensive line coach would make him more run-happy, Callahan has a history seemingly of being pass-oriented.
The run-pass ratio for the Raiders in 2002-2003 was 837-1,150. Jon Gruden, an ESPN Monday Night Football analyst whom Callahan followed as head coach of the Raiders, remembered him as being pass-happy.
Callahan, however, disagrees, though he admittedly considers the short passing game a version of the running game.
“I wouldn’t say that. I wouldn’t make that statement,” Callahan said about being historically pass-oriented. “I’m never going to make that statement. We want to run the football. We are just saying that [there] is another way to do it. A lot of people throw bubble screens, throw quick screens on the perimeter. That’s very much run-like in a lot of different ways.
“There are all types of ways to move the ball and the more you can do, the more you put pressure on the defense. It gives them more things to defend. We are moving in that area in our game, trying to mix it up and use all those aspects and elements.”
The Cowboys’ run-game commitment is also compounded by the fact that Callahan’s calls are often trumped at the line of scrimmage by quarterback Tony Romo.
Romo not only has Peyton Manning-type influence in the game plans as directed by owner Jerry Jones in the off-season, but also has the freedom to change plays at the line of scrimmage, especially when the Cowboys go to the no-huddle.
“In some of the no-huddle situations, he was making those calls,” Garrett said of Romo. “Again, we simply have to do a better job calling more runs and having balance.
“…If you run the no-huddle, you can still run the football. We have to make sure we do that.”
Romo doesn’t deny the audibles. He said he would like to run the ball more, but is more interested in getting the Cowboys into a successful play.
The Cowboys rushed for just 37 yards on 16 attempts against the Chiefs; Romo completed 30 of 42 passes for 298 yards. Receiver Dez Bryant caught nine passes for 141 yards and a touchdown against single coverage and was just a dropped pass away from scoring a possible game-breaking and game-deciding touchdown.
“It’d be silly just to run the ball to where you can’t block an extra guy,” Romo explained. “That’s part of the game. When some people are doing that, they’re leaving Dez [Bryant] by himself.
“It’s part of what defenses have to decide — what they’re going to give up — and sometimes it can be a big benefit.”
Garrett often made the same point when he was the play-caller but now, as the walk-around head coach, is preaching a different tune. He believes in taking what the defense gives you, but also said the Cowboys have to take what they want and find a way to run when the defense is focused on stopping the run.
“You want to always be dictating to the defense as much as you can,” Garrett said. “You want to have weapons and be good enough in different areas throughout the game. But you’ve got to run when they are playing the run and throw when they are playing the pass. And be effective. It’s always something we talk about and make sure we re-establish some balance in our offense.”