Just in time, the Dallas Cowboys’ running game is showing signs of waking up.
The schedule has the Cowboys playing two outdoor games in December, with wind, ice, snow or rain all possible.
And as confident as Tony Romo and coach Jason Garrett are in the quarterback’s arm strength and his ability to send the ball cutting through the elements, the Cowboys know they will need to run the ball.
“It could be a game where you have to run it more because of the conditions,” Garrett said. “But you have to throw it and find ways to throw the ball. A couple of weeks ago in New York, the conditions were similar. We had a pretty decent balance. You always want to do both. We might have to do it differently because of the conditions, but you have to wait and see once the game starts to see what you are able to do.”
The Cowboys ran for 107 yards in 25-degree weather against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Then they came home and ran for 144 yards indoors against the Oakland Raiders. It was only the fourth time since Garrett became head coach that the Cowboys had back-to-back 100-yard rushing games.
“Every week, I think we’ve proven that we can run the ball,” right tackle Doug Free said. “Every week it’s going to be a little bit different. We’ve had a lot of success; we’ve just got to keep rolling with it. Scheme changes every week keep it fresh.”
DeMarco Murray ran for a career-high three touchdowns against Oakland on Thanksgiving Day. The Cowboys had not run for three touchdowns in a game for three years, since Thanksgiving Day 2010 against the New Orleans Saints.
Tellingly, the touchdown runs last week were not breakaways — Murray scored from 2, 4 and 7 yards — indicating a consistent faith in the running game in short yardage near the end zone.
“I think any time you can punch it in, running the ball in the end zone, that’s a huge benefit,” offensive coordinator and line coach Bill Callahan said. “And it’s hard. Yards are hard to come by down there. It’s tight quarters, it’s tight coverage. You’re seeing more defenders around the box. They’ve got the end line as another defender. There’s not a lot of room to manipulate lanes and open up holes, so those holes close quickly.
“And to our guys’ credit, I thought they did a great job blocking and putting us in a position to have some success. And DeMarco was a huge part of that.”
The Cowboys made a move this week to shore up the running game, bringing in a fullback, Tyler Clutts, who has played in Chicago. Murray has run without a fullback the majority of his time with the Cowboys, but he said he and Clutts already have chemistry.
“He’s a very smart guy, doesn’t shy away from contact,” Murray said. “You always want that in a fullback. I think our chemistry has grown rapidly in the past few days. We put two good days together, so we’ll see.”
Clutts said Murray and the Cowboys’ running game will do fine in the elements.
“Don’t worry about if it’s going to hurt or not afterward,” Clutts said with a smile, describing the key to a ground game in cold weather. “It’s just really being efficient with it, not trying to do too much, being secure with the ball. Really, it’s just a matter of physicality: who’s going to be more physical at the point of attack? It’ll definitely be the Cowboys.”
Garrett said physical is part of Murray’s game.
“One of the things he’s done as well as anything is finish runs, get more than maybe what the run has been blocked for,” Garrett said. “We saw that right from the start when he first started playing. I think that style is a good style, whether you’re at home, away, parking lot or the moon, as we talk about. It’s a good way to run, and that’s why he’s been so productive.”
Murray said the running game is getting confidence with more opportunities.
“I have confidence in the offensive line and myself in that we’re going to get that 1 yard any other run,” he said. “I’m going to trust in my coach and my techniques and trust in my offensive line to do their job, and I’m sure they will trust me to do mine.”
Running back Joseph Randle said it’s simply a matter of improving every week, as the cliché goes.
“No doubt. That’s how it’s supposed to be,” he said. “All of the practice that we’re being exposed to, we’ve played a lot of football. And this was a new scheme for us at the beginning of the year. Now it’s really starting to click, it looks like.”