Abandoning the run. It’s perhaps the worst sin any head coach out there can commit. Andy Reid could write volumes about blowing games by abandoning the run. You’ll see team after team happily ditch their running game, even when it’s good, to try and get more yards through the air. You’ve seen your Cowboys do it early in the year, and it drove you mad.
Now, here’s the thing. Despite all that, there are times when abandoning the run is the correct thing to do. And I’m not talking about games where you fall behind by 21 points before the first quarter is out. I’m talking about making the strategic decision to not run the ball from the very outset. To not only abandon the run, but to never seek shelter in it to begin with.
The Minnesota Vikings, as you’ve been told, are very good at stopping the run. They were second against the run this year, and first against the run the three years before that. Nosetackle Pat Williams, who is a fantastic player, is impossible to move off the line. And the Vikings have the speed at linebacker to run you down at the edges. Corner Antoine Winfield is the league’s best tackler. They are a brilliant run defense, and even more so at the goal line, where everything tightens up.
Running the ball against Minnesota is not only ineffective, it’s often just stupid. I’m well aware that the Cowboys have a brilliant stable of running backs. That may be. Regardless, running the ball plays directly into the Vikings hands. They WANT you to run. They want you to waste a down trying to get yardage on the ground. It’s like you’re doing them a favor.
By contrast, the Vikings become quite skittish when you decide to spread them out and throw the ball like crazy against them. This team was 19th in pass defense this year. They gave up more passing TD’s than 20 other teams. Despite their sack totals, there are times when their pass rush will go absent. Both Jay Cutler and Joe Flacco had career days against the Vikings this year, and forgoing the run was part of the reason why.
I remember a game from 2006 in which the Vikings palyed the Patriots on Monday Night Football. The Vikings had a nice record going into that game. But Bill Belichick decided not to bother running the ball and spread the field wide instead. Tom Brady threw 43 times for 372 yards and 4 TD’s that night, and the Pats won 31-7 in a walk. Few teams have since been as brazen in skipping the run against the Vikings since then. But it remains the clearest and most obvious way to beat them.
So if you see the Cowboys running the ball early and often against the Vikings, I’d be displeased. Because the key to beating Favre and company is to let it fly. A LOT.