How do the Cowboys improve in 2014?

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How do the Cowboys improve in 2014?

NFL: Denver Broncos at Dallas Cowboys

I’m sure the question of how to improve this Cowboys team in 2014 has left Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett with many sleepless nights. I am also sure the answer is as simple as sound fundamentals and a pure football philosophy.

Football is very complex and sophisticated in some ways. The playbooks, the terminology, the speed at which the game is played, and the speed at which a mind and body has to operate at the NFL level…. It seems downright baffling that so much information can be processed and executed both mentally and physically in split seconds.

In other ways football is a very simple game dominated by a few basic laws and principles. Low man wins. Run the ball, stop the run. Build inside/ out. If you win in the trenches, you most likely win the game. Don’t turn the football over. These are all things players and coaches have heard thousands of times since their days in pee wee football, and for good reason. The basics of football will never change.

There is no need to get cute and out think yourself if you are Jason Garrett or any coach on the staff. No need to try and reinvent the wheel. The great teams, the teams that hoist the Lombardi at the end of the season, are the teams that do not deviate from a simple tried and tested formula proven time and time again throughout the history of football.

In a nutshell, the Cowboys need to run the football at a significantly higher rate than what they have the past few seasons. I know the biggest thing on every Cowboys’ fans radar is improving that dreadful defense. And rightfully so. But that defense at best is a work in progress. Demarcus Ware, gone. Jason Hatcher, gone. Sean Lee , gone ( for the season). Anthony Spencer…..your guess is as good as mine. Enter Demarcus Lawrence, Henry Melton, Devonte Hollowman,  Tryone Crawford, Kyle Wilbur, and Anthony Hitchens. Guys we really don’t have a clue of what to expect. Maybe they fill in the shoes of the players this defense was built around the last 6, 7, 8 years. Maybe they don’t. The front office tried to get bodies and talent in here. The rest will be settled on the field

But my point is, weather this is a top 10 defense, or a bottom tier defense, you still have to play football. And play it the way it was intended to be played. Tough, physical, and hard-nosed. That will improve this team as much as anything.

I watch ESPN. I watch the NFL network. I listen to talk radio. The big myth is this is a passing league. You have to air it out to win these days. That’s what this league has become. I firmly disagree.

The perfect example is the 2013 Denver Broncos. They aired the ball out like no other team this league has ever seen. They broke all kinds of records. Points, yards, passing yards, touchdown passes. They were the media’s wet dream. What did all those glamorous records get them? A whopping 8 points in the super bowl. There is your passing league. Getting an epic thrashing for the ages by a team that showed up and played football the way it was intended to be played. Tough, physical, and hard-nosed. There is no substitute for this. No way around this. And no deviating from this. Building a team to be a glamorous passing team is building to finish 2nd.

I took a look back to the turn of the millennium to see just how much the the eventual champion relied on the run. In this ” passing” era, four of the last 14 champions actually ran the ball more than they passed it. Last years Seahawks ran the ball 55% of the time. The 2005 Steelers ran the ball a whopping 59% of the time. The 2004 patriots with the legendary Tom Brady relied on Cory Dillon and their running game 52% of the time, and the 2000 Ravens ran the ball just over 50% of the time.

Then you have another set of teams that achieved nearly perfect balance. The 2008 Steelers ran the ball 48% of the time, the 2003 Pats ran the ball 47% of the time, and the 2001 Pats ran the ball 49.5% of the time. So all together that is 7 of the last 14 champions that strongly relied on their running game. Especially by today’s standards. And one thing that really stands out to me is the Patriots dynasty. This being the last dynasty the league has seen. All together in their 3 super bowl winning seasons they ran the ball 1470 times and passed the ball 1504 times. That Is unbelievable balance.

Then you have the 2007 giants who ran the ball 46% of the time and beat the 18-0 patriots. What was it the Pats did that year differently than when they won rings? They decided to air it out and break offensive records. Coincidence?

Even the Sean Payton/ Drew Brees 2009 Saints ran the ball 46% of the time. That is 9 of the last 14 champions who ran the ball no less than 46% of the time.

The other 5 champions since 2000 being the 2012 ravens ( 44%), the 2011 giants ( 41%) the 2010 packers ( 44%), the 2006 colts (44%), and the 2002 buccaneers ( 42%). 12 of the last 14 champs ran the ball no less than 44% of the time.

Since Jason Garrett arrived in 2007 the Cowboys have gone downhill as far as utilizing the running game. He started off half decent in 2007 running the ball at 44%. In 2008 it dipped a little to 42%. Garrett got it back to 44% in 2009. Then the downward trend begins. 43% in 2010, 42 % in 2011, a pathetic 35% in 2012, and a dismal 36% in 2013.

I notice the two years they ran the ball the most were 2007 and 2009. Those just happen to be the 2 years they went to the playoffs. In 2007 they went 13-3 and earned a 1st round bye. In 2009 they went 11-5, won the division, and won the franchises only playoff game since January of 97.

Tony Romo is still a capable NFL QB at 34 years old. But he can not try and carry this team anymore. The injuries are starting to become somewhat of a concern, and frankly he cannot do it by himself. Give him some help carrying that load. Some real help.

This defense as I stated earlier is at best a work in progress. They are young, and unproven. You don’t air the ball out and expect to win a title. Let alone coming off a season where your defense finished dead last and and lost several of its key contributors. You keep them on the sideline as much as possible. You do this by running the ball and controlling the clock.

This might be the most talented offensive line the Cowboys have had since 1995. Three 1st round picks are expected to anchor this line for years to come. Turn these guys loose and let them dominate their opponents. Offensive lineman don’t dominate by moving backwards. They dominate by moving forwards, run blocking.

Running the ball is a mindset. A culture. Don’t give me that b.s. that….oh the defense dictated a pass on that play. That’s how you end up passing the ball 65% of the time. You cram the ball down the defenses throat. You do this because that’s what you practice starting in July. Play this game the way it was intended to be played and this team will improve. And for the sake of our blood pressure it better start when training camp opens

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  • MercWithaMouth

    Good article! Interesting numbers you got there on 07 & 09 seasons, seeing 12 & 13 is disgusting… Especially knowing that when Murray gets the ball 20+ times a game the Boys are 8-0(or something in that area). Its clear over the last 3 seasons that if you get the ball to Murray you have a better chance at eeking out a W. Lets hope that Linehan knows that and Murray stays healthy or we get someone to step up behind him and be nearly as effective.

    • Brian Bramblett

      Thats a good point about murray. its baffling to see murray average 5 yards a carry and they just forget about him in the 2nd half when he could really start to ware down a defense. Far too many times he gets 12-15 carries a game. It just doesnt cut it

  • Big Harb

    Excellent article about the basics of winning football. I agree that the team needs to run the ball effectively to protect an unproven & mostly inexperienced defense. Their philosophy is pass to set up the run so I think a good ratio would be 55-45 pass/run. This would most likely mean they are close or leading and finishing off games with the run.

    • Brian Bramblett

      Man I would be exstatic if the cowboys ran the ball 45% of the time. And that would be the highest % since garrett came to dallas. I have to believe that would not only help the overall win %, but I believe it would help them win when it really counts….december!

  • Lionone1

    The Cowboys improve by staying healthy. The Coaches are there, the scheme is there. I’m excited about the defense and have complete trust in Marinelli. With a full off season. These DL and LB’s are hungry. So are the safeties. The only spot I have concerned with is the CB. Carr goes down and then what? I’ve never seen Clai as a physical enough corner to play in 4-3. THats my main concern. The other is depth at the OL.

    • Brian Bramblett

      I share your optimism on the defensive side of the ball. I dont think lawrence is the next dware, but I do think he will be an upgrade over the injured dware that suited up the last 2 years. Im really looking foreward to seeing what wilcox will do with a season under his belt. Marinelli is no doubt one heck of a defensive coach who gets the best out of his players. And I think as you said they are young and hungry. Im not sure how long it will take them to gel and play together as ” one”, but I think they have some nice pieces to build around. No doubt health is crucial. No team can absorb the injuries that haunted this team the last 2 years. Perhaps if they played a tougher brand of football, the players in turn would become tougher as well

  • Gabriel Carrasco

    Good job here. It was well researched you can just tell. I agree run the ball. In my opinion football is similar to the building of fortresses. The strongest walls have the strongest base. You can always touch them up and make them look pretty at the top, but that is normally the weakest area.

    • Brian Bramblett

      Thats a good way to look at it. And judging by the results under garrett the cowboys have done way too much touching up and not enough foundation work. I think the philosophy needs work more than anything and not so much the talent. What would a coach like harbough ( either one of them), pete carroll, belichek, or sean peyton do with this roster?

  • Johnathan Nguyen

    Good article Brian, and let me first to say that i totally agree with you. However, we have a problem. The problem is the top 2 guys in our organization are true believers in taking what the defense gives us. Jason Garrett and Tony Romo went on record and repeat this mantra many of times. One time a reporter asked Jason does he know that when the Cowboys give Murray the rock 20 times or more, they are undefeated? Jason’s answer was, “It doesn’t work that way, you can’t just run the ball a certain amount of time just because the statistics said so.” Brian, i’m not making this up! When you got the Boss with that approach and belief, WE ARE NOT RUNNING THE BALL! I’m sure you remembered the play where Romo changed the running play threw an int that almost drove Murray to tears? Yeah, that one. As long as Romo can change plays at the line, his tendency will lean toward the pass. He’s a gun gunslinger at heart. The mentality and the beliefs of this team at the top will not let this team be a running team Brian.

    That being said, i do believe we ARE going to run the ball more this year because our Oline is better, at least on paper. We are forced to run more to save this defense from going back to back Duds of the NFL. Last but not least, we are running more to save our QB from one hit away to retirement. Good job on the article Brian.

    • Brian Bramblett

      I hear ya jon. Its very frustrating isnt it! I think this year its more of an ultimatum for garrett. Im not sure just how deep jerrys commitment is to jason, but I have to believe with his contract expiring if he doesnt produce a trip to the playoffs he is gone. In no way would that disappoint me. And personally I dont think they are getting anywhere near the playoffs, because as you said, they refuse to run the ball. Its that whole insanity thing. If they sling the ball around 60-65% of the time this year, with the schedule they have, it will be a miracle to get to 8-8. More likely it will be 6-10 or worse.

      • Gabriel Carrasco

        Garrett is going to have to win a playoff game, just getting there won’t be enough. If we make it and lose in the first round, it’s just like not making the playoffs at all. Then again we are talking Jerry Jones, so I don’t know what his expectations are.

    • Lionone1

      I am totally not in line with this way of thinking. The passing offense has been the only thing consistent for a lot of years. They averaged over 27 ppg last year. Cowboys don’t need to run the ball more. They need to continue to run the ball better. Which they did as last year went on. Murray stayed healthy, but most importantly the offensive line was getting better as they learned to play together.

      Think about it like this. For the same reason your saying they should run more. IF they did run more and weren’t successful. You wouldn’t be saying. “Hey atleast they tried to run the ball”. You would be saying why are they trying to run the ball so much when they can’t. They need to continue to get better and it always comes down to how good your line is.

      • Johnathan Nguyen

        Lionone1, you are partially right. They were running the ball better but what Brian are saying is that we need to run the ball more to be a BALANCED OFFENSE. Btw, Jason Garrett agreed with that too, at least, he went on record to say it every time being interviewed. Did he do it? HELL NO! As of right now, we are a one dimensional team, a passing team. Is there anything wrong with that? Well, yes and no. No, we were having success passing the ball, but Yes, with our defesnse, we need to run more to aid with the clock management. Hence, keep the opposing offenses off the field. This imbalance wouldn’t have been such an issue if we have a defense that can stop my grandmother from scoring. Garrett and other football pundits agreed that one should be balanced to keep opposing teams guessing and i have to agree with that statement too.

        If you think we have a good passing attack now, wait until we can line up and get 4 to 5 yards a pop running. This will keep the opposing team honest making our passing attacks even more dangerous.

        • Lionone1

          You make good points. But, the Cowboys didn’t get to run the ball more because they we’re busy needing to score over 30 points to win a football game. I don’t use the word balance because it suggests a certain number of runs/passes. I want a complete team. run/pass defense/turnovers special teams.

          I’m looking forward to Murray having a good year, if this offensive line can continue to improve. But, he’s got to stay on the field too. He missed a couple of games last year.

      • Brian Bramblett

        I dont buy into the ” passing league” hype. All the teams that have a potent passing attack lose in the end. The 2013 broncos, the 2011 packers, the 2007 pats, the 2001 rams, the 98 vikings…..all of them lit up the record book just to lose at the end of the season. Balance is key in the nfl. Proof is listed in the article. The cowboys need to run the ball more, and they need to run the ball better. And they need to work at it until they achieve both. Well that is if they have any aspirations of hoisting a lombardi again

      • californy

        It seem like JJ forgot how to win SB, those are won at the trenches never at the skill position. Aikman in 1994 even with 8 Pro Bowl player on offense only muster up 13 Td to 12 interce[tion. It has always been the run game that has given the Cowboys championship games wins.

        • Lionone1

          I agree. But, that was a great offensive line and a pretty darn good defense too. This team is improving on the offensive line but we have yet to see if the defense can continue to give the ball back to Tony like they did for a lot of the season last year. Murray has improved as well. His running style has changed. He’s not as reckless as he was. He’ll still knock someone on their ass but doesn’t take unnecessary damage to himself.

    • Al

      How can you assume the line is better because they added martin, a guy who has never played guard before?

      • Johnathan Nguyen

        That’s why i said “on paper.” My logic is no different than other’s logic in drafting a player. Martin by most accounts, was the safest pick in the draft. Adding him on our already pretty solid line can only make it more solid wouldn’t you agree? Listen, 52 games starter in college, he had done something right. I’m not high on Leary like some are. Berny is NOT a lock as day one starter for us. 3 pretty decent players competing for one position, my logic said that’s a pretty good situation. Peace.

        • Al

          I am willing to bet Gabe Jackson ends up a much better guard than Martin.

          • Johnathan Nguyen

            Is it too gay to say I absolutely adore Gabe Jackson? LOL Kiddings aside, I think that’s a good and even bet.

          • Al

            I said the same about Warford last yr, and he didn’t allow a single sack as a rookie. JG and JJ need to focus on drafting road graders instead of athletes. They can try their ZBS all they want. Give me a Larry Allen Nate Newton combo every time. It takes big nasty brawlers to win in the trenches. Guys that move people. I don’t care how fast they run or how high they can jump in gym shorts. I want big mean nasty guys.

          • Johnathan Nguyen

            Yep, all day with that combo. I remember screaming at my television when Warford was still on board in the second. Then when the third round came around, and we didn’t get him, I turned off the TV! Really wanted us to draft him.

          • Gabriel Carrasco

            I was looking for Barrett Jones or Warford. That draft really sucked, but it might turn out ok. Frederick has somewhat panned out in the limited amount of time we have seen him, still wouldn’t have taken him round one. I would have taken Short or Warford there and taken Frederick in round 2 or 3. I still wanted Freddy, just nowhere near where we got him.

    • Al

      Have you ever actually listened to what gets said on the sidelines? I have actually spoken to players on the team and I have video as well. The Garrett offense is too predictable. Anyone knows it’s a run play by the way they line up. Tony knows this OL can’t get any push. You can go listen to him Mic’d up at youtube. He is complaining that they can’t get a yard when they run on 3rd and short or in goal line situations. That is because this OL can’t get any push. They do well in space because Murray can run to daylight. When teams load the box and play the run, they fail miserably. Tony checks out of run plays in those situations. You need to study some game film and get a grasp of how football actually works instead of listening to the idiots on TV. Tony wants a running game more than anyone, he has been running for his life for years and his body took the abuse. It’s obvious to me that you have been indoctrinated by the media. I played defense for years and I can say that Garrett runs a more predictable offense than a lot of high schools. Ray Lewis made jokes about it to the media, so did many other players.

      • Johnathan Nguyen

        Al, I was listening to Ed Reed made that statement about how predictable our offense was live! Yes, I guess I can see their points. However, if that statement is really true, then why is it that our offense ends up in the top 10 every year since Garrett took over? Yes, you are absolutely right that our line cannot get a respectable push to run on predictable downs. Last year, we did run better, but I think that is a byproduct of our opponents not respecting our running game. I am hoping that with a year under his belt Fred can become a better run blocker up the middle. If that is the case, that, my friend, is a game changer!

        • Al

          our offense ends up top 10 every year because of Romo’s ability to extend plays and change plays at the line to make things happen. He has made Garrett look good for a while now.

          • californy

            Well last year the boy couldn’t over come the worst defense in franchise history. The 12 personnel was disastrous when you don’t have the NFL talent or know how to execute that type of offense

        • californy

          I thought Ray Lewis said that comment. I remember when he a chance to become a Cowboy but Dallas said no to the mean and nasty.

          • Johnathan Nguyen

            The reporter interviewed Ed right after the game. Ed was laughing and told the reporter that he and Ray Lewis knew exactly what the Cowboys were calling most of the time and he was laughing about it. I could be wrong because I don’t trust my memory either Californy lol.

  • Al

    Great job on the article. The numbers don’t lie and when Emmitt or Dorsett was leading the Offense they won with consistency.

  • Lionone1

    Here we go! 🙂