In his news conference Thursday, Jason Garrett asked the questions the Dallas Cowboys ask themselves about their offense.
No. 1: “If teams are taking away the pass, can you run the ball really effectively and be an effective and efficient offense?”
No. 2: “And vice versa, if they’re taking away the run, can you throw the ball as effectively as you want to?”
The first three games have provided some encouraging answers at Valley Ranch.
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The Cowboys threw effectively against the New York Giants and ran well against the St. Louis Rams. If not for a poor fourth quarter of offense at Kansas City, the Cowboys might be unbeaten. But even in that game, they went over 300 yards.
The Cowboys might be right to believe their offense is better suited this year to adapt to the needs of a particular game, whether it’s more running or more passing, as opposed to having to rely on the strength of past offenses — the pass.
“It’s a good question,” said quarterback Tony Romo, who last season attempted the 10th-most passes in league history. “You always want to take what the defense gives you, but until you’re able to have production on the ground and in certain areas of the passing game, you can only do so much as far as taking what they’re giving you. If you can do that, it gives you a big advantage, and we’ve been able to do that so far.”
The Cowboys are still most effective in the air. They’ve thrown for 728 yards and run for 317.
But after the 34 run plays against St. Louis last week, the pass-run selection totals are almost even: 83 passes, 73 runs.
“I felt last week, going into the fourth quarter, was pretty close to how we want to be as an offense,” tight end Jason Witten said. “We made some big passes and, also, we had some big runs. Really, it’s not about how many runs you have or passes. It’s really, we can do what we want when we want to do it.”
Because they are so effective in the air — and drafted two pass-catchers, bolstering that part of the offense — the Cowboys might have to resist temptation to throw so much. But two things can help: a better offensive line, and holding the lead.
Rookie center Travis Frederick has been joined by an effective Ron Leary at left guard, with Pro Bowl veteran Brian Waters ready to move in full time at right guard.
“We’re as strong as we’ve been on the interior of our offensive line in about three years,” Garrett said. “I think you see that in our running game and our pass protection, and that’s been a real positive.”
And against the Giants and Rams, the Cowboys led from start to finish. They haven’t had to ditch the run to play catch-up, and Romo hasn’t been under constant pressure from a defense that knows it can rush the passer on every play.
“If you’re throwing 50 balls and you’ve got 25 of them under duress, it’s just bound to have a negative effect throughout the football game,” Romo said. “And when you’re trailing like we have been in the past, things of that nature, for any quarterback, you’ll see it happen across the league every week.”
Running back DeMarco Murray, who had a career-high 26 carries against the Rams, doesn’t expect that every week. But when the run is there, he wants it.
“We’re not going to rush for 177 yards, or whatever it was, every Sunday,” Murray said. “You’ve just got to find different ways to win the game. It just so happened that the running game was a little bit more vital last week than it was in past weeks. You’ve just got to pick your poison and continue to just work hard, and whatever you can do to get the win, that’s the most important thing.”
And the most important question.