Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys hands the ball off to DeMarco Murray #29 of the Dallas Cowboys against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Cowboys Stadium on December 16, 2012 in Arlington, Texas.
In watching the 2012 Cowboys, you may have noticed that the offense prefers to run to certain areas of the field. When running between the tackles, the ‘Boys ran to the right side of the field on 151 of their 237 attempts (63.7 percent). That’s a pretty wide disparity, especially when you consider that right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau was perhaps the worst run blocker on the team.
Whether running to the left or right, Jason Garrett preferred to keep it inside in general in 2012. The Cowboys ran outside of the tackles only 89 times all year, representing just over one-quarter of their rushes. But why? Below, I’ve broken down the Cowboys’ 2012 rushes into a few different categories in an attempt to discover how much risk and upside running to specific areas of the field holds.
Runs Inside Tackles: 237
Runs Outside Tackles: 89
Note that I didn’t include any quarterback scrambles or kneel-downs in the sample. Perhaps the main reason Garrett prefers to keep the ball inside is that it’s safe. Only 8.9 percent of the Cowboys’ rushes that went between the tackles in 2012 lost yardage. In comparison, the ‘Boys lost yards on outside runs at nearly twice the rate.
Of course, running outside has its advantages. Although probably inherently riskier, outside runs also possess far more upside than inside rushes. The Cowboys’ rate of five, 10, and 15-yard runs was substantially higher when running outside of the tackles than when they kept it inside. The types of runs make a difference, too. Runs designed outside of the tackles often either start with the ball-carrier well behind the line-of-scrimmage (such as on tosses) or take a long time to develop (such as stretches and counters). Meanwhile, inside runs are typically quick-hitting dives.
There’s a place for both inside and outside runs, obviously, but it’s difficult to determine the degree to which each should be utilized. Overall, a higher rate of outside runs would probably benefit the Cowboys simply because the dramatic disparity in negative runs hasn’t been that large in the past; 2012 was an outlier. The Cowboys could particularly benefit from running more behind Tyron Smith, especially on early downs. A one or two-yard loss isn’t as debilitating on 1st and 10 as it is on 3rd and 1, and the big-play potential that outside runs possess is something that could serve the Cowboys’ running game well.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.