Doug Free #68 and tackle Demetress Bell #77 of the Dallas Cowboys lead their team out of the tunnel prior to the game against the Miami Dolphins during the second quarter at Fawcett Stadium on August 4, 2013 in Canton, Ohio.
Okay, now what?
Unfortunately, we all remember how historically hideous the Cowboys’ running game was in 2012. (I’ll politely pause while you gather your barf bag.) They set a feeble franchise record with only 1,265 yards rushing -- as a team. To put it another, uglier, way, the Cowboys last season rushed for 832 yards less than … Adrian Peterson.
The total was 542 yards fewer than their previous low. And DeMarco Murray’s team-leading 663 yards was the fewest for a Cowboys’ No. 1 back since Paul Palmer’ 446 yards back in the forgettable 1-15 disaster of 1989.
Emmitt Smith had seven more productive rushing seasons, by himself.
The Cowboys obviously aren’t blind to their malady. In the off-season they handed the offensive play-calling reigns over to Bill Callahan. The offensive line coach/offensive coordinator promises a stronger, more stubborn commitment to run the ball, especially in the Red Zone.
I know that running the ball is important in the NFL. But in today’s game you move the chains, you score points and you win championships via the pass. Peterson’s Vikings didn’t win a playoff game. The Ravens won the Super Bowl without a running back in the Top 10.
That said, the Cowboys have to be more productive when handing the ball off in 2013. For all the good – sometimes great – he can accomplish, Tony Romo can’t be trusted to single-handedly carry this team anywhere other than almost heartbreak.
You know it. I know it. Jerry Jones knows it.
Despite NFL Top 10(ish) players at their skill positions in Romo, Murray, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant, the porous offensive line is what gives the owner pause. It’s why Tuesday in an interview on 105.3 The Fan he side-stepped the word “playoffs” and merely, meekly predicted his team in 2013 would, gulp, “compete.”
Yep, because of the offensive line the Cowboys’ bar is set depressingly low.
In a desperate attempt to upgrade their blocking, they reached out to 33-year-old former Jet Brandon Moore, who agreed to terms and then promptly re-retired before boarding a plane to Oxnard. The Cowboys then negotiated – two years too late, in my opinion – with former Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters before those talks broke off last weekend.
So now they will … what exactly?
The Cowboys are set and solid at left tackle with emerging star Tyron Smith. And that’s it. First-round pick and center Travis Frederick has impressed during the preseason with his quickness and savvy, but need I remind that – right off the bat in Week 1 - he’ll be lining up with the likes of Linval Joseph and Cullen Jenkins in his rookie grill.
Projected left guard Nate Livings, who started every game last season, is sidelined with his second knee surgery in six months. The Cowboys would like to replace him with Ron Leary, who spent last year on the practice squad, didn't play a snap in a game and is now also recovering from recent knee surgery. That leads to third-stringer David Arkin, who at this point just isn’t an NFL-caliber lineman.
Projected right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau, underwhelming at best last season, was only recently cleared for practice after missing two weeks with a strained hamstring.
And we all remember the nightmare that was right tackle Doug Free’s 2012. If you want to be an optimist, hey, this season can’t be any worse. To be fair, Free’s technique and strength seemed significantly improved during training camp, but to suggest any of the Cowboys’ linemen outside of Smith is even an above-average player – much less elite – is comically erroneous. And adding to mediocre musical chairs, at practice Wednesday morning at Valley Ranch Bernadeau was at left guard, Free at right guard, Jeremy Parnell at right tackle and Arkin, appropriately, demoted to oblivion.
Long gone are the days of Larry Allen and Mark Tuinei and Nate Newton and Mark Stepnoski and Erik Williams and …hope?
“I like our offensive line, where we are right now,” Jones said Tuesday. “There are some things that if I could just draw it up on a piece of paper would be better. But where we are relative to what happens on offensive line – it requires five players, they gotta be healthy, you have that happening at various times, it’s a unit – I like what we have a chance to be.”
In another move to improve the run game, the Cowboys have ditched fullbacks and will instead use a variety of tight ends as lead blockers for Murray.
Give them credit for attempting to address their biggest weakness. But, unless we’re all shocked, blame them for ultimately failing to fix it.
A native Texan who was born in Duncanville and graduated from UT-Arlington, Richie Whitt has been a mainstay in the Metroplex media since 1986. He’s held prominent roles on all media platforms including newspaper (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Observer), radio (105.3 The Fan) and TV (co-host on TXA 21 and numerous guest appearances, including NBC 5). He currently writes a sports/guy stuff blog at DFWSportatorium.com and lives in McKinney with his fiancee, Sybil, and two very spoiled dogs.