Their actions might not show it, but the Dallas Cowboys are coming around to believing in their ground game.
“We love running the ball,” offensive coordinator Bill Callahan said.
Over the past four games, the Cowboys have averaged 145.8 yards, twice what they averaged in the first 10 games.
But do the Cowboys trust their running game? With last week’s game against Green Bay on the line, quarterback Tony Romo put the ball in the air and was intercepted twice in the last 2:46.
It left running back DeMarco Murray furious that he and the offensive line did not get a chance to close the game out, raised more questions about Callahan and coach Jason Garrett’s commitment to the run and gave Romo’s critics another reason to question his late-game credentials.
All because the Cowboys went away from the run, the most consistent part of the team since the bye, in a clutch situation.
“I think in that situation, the offensive line and myself would definitely have liked the opportunity to close the game out for us,” Murray said. “I wasn’t mad at anybody. I was just mad at the situation. We let them come back and gave them an opportunity to win the game, and they took advantage of that.
“As an offensive line and the way we’ve been running, we feel like we can close the game out. But, once again, that’s up to Callahan, who calls the plays. He gives us great opportunities. We’ve just got to continue to get those opportunities.”
Callahan said as the game against Green Bay last week got closer and closer, the Cowboys found themselves needing more and more to move the ball, which meant being more aggressive with the pass.
He said on the second-and-6 play on which Romo was intercepted, a running play was sent in, but Romo had the option to pass if the defense was stacked against the run. Callahan said considering the game situation — with the Cowboys wanting to run clock, also — he should have taken that option out.
“If we had to do it all over again, we would certainly do it different,” Callahan said. “That was the design of the play, and we certainly can do better. Certainly I can.”
The Cowboys have reason to trust the run.
The offensive line, playing the same five players for six consecutive games, appears to have figured out the zone-blocking scheme.
“Up front, we have a better understanding of the zone, how to approach the blocking and techniques,” guard Mackenzy Bernadeau said.
And Murray is seeing the plays develop and working well with fullback Tyler Clutts, acquired two games ago.
“DeMarco is a smart guy,” Clutts said. “He’s been a part of this offense. He understands it, sees it, things that happen. He’s good about communicating pre-snap reads, as well. He’s got a little more vision than I do from where he’s at. But he’s just a smart back, as far as vision in the pass game, as far as pass protection, He’s just a really smart back.”
Callahan said Murray has clearly gotten better since coming back from a knee injury that sidelined him for two games.
“I haven’t talked to him about it, but just watching him, I believe he sees the field a lot better,” Callahan said. “I think he anticipates his secondary cut. There’s a primary cut on each play. His secondary cut is getting better. I think his field of vision has increased — he’s seeing the field so much better. That’s my perspective. I’ve watched the film and study. We see him making moves, we see him making cuts within the structure of the scheme so much better. I think he’s made real, real strides in that respect.”
There are reasons for the Cowboys to trust the running game. This week, they face a good run defense against the Washington Redskins.
They might have to pass to build a lead. But if they have a lead, and they have a chance to trust the run, will they?
“We did the best we could in the situation and circumstances we were in on Sunday,” Callahan said. “I think we learned a lot from it. I think every game you come out of where you didn’t do well, or you do well in, you come out of it thinking, ‘We could have done that a little better there; we could have done that a little differently.’
“It’s a learning experience.”