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DallasCowboys.com Columnist-Running From Problems


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Running From Problems


DallasCowboys.com Columnist

October 28, 2003, 8:05 p.m. (CDT)

IRVING, Texas - Now in this NF of L, it is one thing to struggle throwing the ball. It may be one thing to have your problems on defense.

But, you just got to be able to run the ball. No ifs, ands or buts.

That is not some Lombardian philosophy, either. That is just fact. If you can run the ball, then you can fudge your way to a good passing game. If you can run the ball, then you can camouflage even defensive deficiencies. If you can run the ball, you can weather-proof your team.

Bill Parcells knows this, and he's not some old-fogy. He just knows, and do not let your perception of Parcells' offense with the New York Giants when they won two Super Bowl titles in five years cloud your perception of his coaching style.

Remember the Patriots.

In the four years Parcells was with New England, the Patriots never passed for less than 3,285 yards. Need perspective on that number, posted in a 5-11 season? The Cowboys have thrown for more yards only once in the past seven years.

The Parcells Patriots also threw for 4,444 yards in 1995, The Cowboys, in their 43-year history, have never thrown for more than 3,861 yards. Why the Patriots threw for more than that twice under Parcells. But then, he had Drew Bledsoe, and nothing against Quincy Carter, he's no Drew Bledsoe.

Oh the legion of second-guessers out there, and boy, the Cowboys lose one, and they come flooding down the street after Sunday's 16-0 loss to Tampa Bay: Why didn't the Cowboys just sling the ball around against the injury-depleted Bucs? Why didn't Parcells turn Carter loose? Why didn't he just throw deep?

Funny, huh, how a guy figures out a way to win five straight games, but lose one game and suddenly he went brain dead . . . conservative . . . tried not to lose. Oh, heard it all already.


Parcells knows this about the Cowboys, and for any who cares to get the wax out of their ears, he's telling you so when he says, "We have inherent weaknesses to shore up if we can. It's not new news."

And when he says, "I pretty much know what happened."

Hey, he didn't run the ball 16 out of 27 plays in the first quarter and 22 out of 47 plays in the half out of sheer stubbornness. Parcells understands the Cowboys have not yet developed a pure passing attack; that much of their early success is a by-product of running the ball some, play action and play calling. He knows that top-rated defense of his is not yet Buc-ish, that their ball hogging has as much to do with that as anything.

Which all points to running the football, and the Cowboys didn't on Sunday. In fact, they were at their worse, gaining just 60 yards on 22 carries, for a disconcerting 2.7-yard average. That represented their fourth lowest rushing total since 1999 when they gained all of 24 yards against the Giants.

Unless the moon is aligned with Uranus or something, 60 yards rushing isn't going to get it for the Cowboys, not this year. No matter how many carries it takes or how many backs and quarterbacks it takes carrying the rock, the Cowboys must sniff around 100 yards rushing if they are to have any chance of winning games.

And don't put all this on the running back. Now I'm not saying Troy Hambrick doesn't have his limitations. He does, and averaging 3.2 yards a carry, tied for the worst average among the top 20 runners in the NFC, is not exactly going to get it.

But, it's not all his fault, and certainly Sunday's 25-yard performance was not all because the guy can't find his way out of a paper bag, OK? He had no shot on those first two third-and-one carries. I mean, at times Hambrick doesn't always see the hole or make the proper cut. But dude, when you are getting hit just after taking the handoff, not even Emmitt Smith, circa 1995, could gain the yard.

You got to have some blocking, and that doesn't just mean the five guys up front. This includes the fullbacks and tight ends, too. This is not a one-man show. Never has been. There must be some holes.

So that, too, must be a concern for Parcells, compounding this running limitations. Although results haven't been confirmed, it appears backup center Gennaro DiNapoli will miss some time with a high ankle sprain. Parcells said as much on Monday. So now, the backup center is Tyson Walter, which also means starter Matt Lehr, who has been rotating with DiNapoli, now must go the distance, which could possibly expose his deficiencies.

But wait. Who finished the game at left guard when Parcells yanked Larry Allen? That would be Tyson Walter, who is listed as the backup at both guard positions. So what if Allen can't go or isn't allowed to go after getting pushed around by the Bucs this past Sunday? It would seem Walter would be the starter, but also the backup at center.

That would mean the Cowboys need another backup guard just in case, and right now, the other backup offensive linemen - Kurt Vollers, Torrin Tucker and Javier Collins - are working at tackle. Even practice squad lineman, Dave Volk, is listed as a tackle. Now Tucker, only a rookie free agent, is working at tackle, but he played guard at Southern Mississippi. So that would be an alternative, along with picking up some free-agent guard.

Just what the Cowboys need heading into Sunday's encounter with the Washington Redskins (3-4), a team ranked 21st against the run, giving up 100.6 yards a game. They need to run the ball against this team.

"We didn't do nothing," Hambrick said of the Cowboys' offensive performance against Tampa Bay, which not only held them to 60 yards rushing, but also just 178 total yards. "It just seemed like they were faster than we were."

Now again, say what you want about Hambrick, but unless a back is hesitant hitting the hole, and it seems after the first game he hasn't been, or unless the back on the wide press play never cuts it up, and he seems to be, getting dropped for losses is not on the back. That's on the blocking.

And unfortunately for Hambrick, he is leading the league in runs for losses.

"You need your front line," Hambrick said. "I'm leading the league in losses. Is it me?"

It's not just the losses. It's also the runs for no gain. All totaled, Hambrick has 39 carries in seven games for either no gain or negative yards, all totaling minus-42 yards. Let me repeat that: 39 carries. That means 28 percent of his carries have gained either nothing or lost yards. That is rather incredible, and doesn't take into account the umpteen carries for but one yards. Talk about an average killer.

Hey, unless the guy is simply blind and can't see a hole to save his life, he ought to at least be able to fall forward for one yard. But when you are getting hit that many times behind the line of scrimmage - 24 times - something isn't right.

That is what concerns Parcells. He knows. You might not, but he knows, and this must get fixed, otherwise this offense won't average more than the 1.7 touchdowns a game it is after seven games. And let me tell you, if that's all they're averaging, this 5-2 start could fizzle out quickly.

"We have to play certain way," Parcells said, "or we won't be too successful."

And he knows that certain way is based on running the ball, come Bucs or Redskins.


It appears the Cowboys have not forgotten free-agent running back Adrian Murrell, who spent three weeks with them after the start of training camp, and there is a good possibility he could be signed this week in hopes of bolstering a sagging running attack. Remember, the Cowboys scoured the league at the trade deadline, trolling for a running back. Since there was no deal and the deadline has passed, signing Murrell might be the only alternative to possibly boosting the running game. Stay tuned. But gosh, the guy hasn't played football now in eight weeks.

Darrell Russell will be a classic risk-reward case for 31 teams in the NFL, assuming he indeed clears waivers after the Raiders washed their hands of the troubled defensive tackle following his reinstatement by the NFL on Monday. The second pick in the 1997 draft is a tremendous player, but obviously he comes with considerable baggage, even unable to keep himself out of trouble after being served with an indefinite suspension by the league. He had to agree to the league minimum on a one-year deal before I'd take a chance on him. And remember owner Jerry Jones saying after failed attempts with Alonzo Spellman and Dimitrius Underwood, "We are not in the business of rehabilitation."

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