The 2016 Dallas Cowboys are on a mission to re-create their winning ways of 2014. Led by their offensive line that season, DeMarco Murray led the league with 1,845 rushing yards.
Murray’s dominance made things easy for Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan, as he called his number to carry the football about 24 times a game on average (24.5).
When Murray wasn’t churning out yards on the ground, a healthy Tony Romo and Dez Bryant feasted on defenses through the air as a result of Murray’s production. This Dallas offense was good enough to win the NFC East at 12-4, and march down the field when it mattered the most at the end of the Wild Card Playoffs to defeat the Lions and send the Cowboys to Green Bay.
In the Divisional Playoffs, the offense should have again had their signature moment, as Romo and Bryant channeled their inner Aikman and Irvin on a late fourth-quarter, fourth down attempt that was wrongly reversed from a goal-line reception to an incomplete pass.
This ended the 2014 season, and sent the Cowboys into a tailspin that few saw coming in 2015. Suffering through the bulk of their 16 game season without Tony Romo or Dez Bryant, Darren McFadden became the team’s best weapon week in and week out.
This was far from the expectation fans set entering the season, as the departure of Murray left Linehan with Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden, and Lance Dunbar. Jerry Jones would come out and say before the season that he felt the offense, at the running back position, was better off than it was with Murray – since the combination of all three backs brought more to the table.
Almost unfairly, we would never get to see how Linehan planned on utilizing these three to emulate the 2014 running game, as the only back that survived the season was McFadden. DMC was force fed the ball with the likes of “Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore starting at QB, and was able to have some success once the Cowboys shifted their entire running game philosophy away from the zone blocking scheme.
The blessing in disguise from this season ended up being Ezekiel Elliott, who was in a prime position to be grabbed by the Cowboys with their 4th overall pick. Elliott has a chance to be Linehan’s new Swiss army knife in the backfield, as the entirety of the Cowboys staff agreed that adding one solidified player on offense like Elliott – who can run the ball in the zone scheme, catch the ball out of the backfield, and block in the passing game – could have huge implications for the entire squad.
Scott Linehan will certainly be putting Elliott to the test right away, as the Cowboys have little time to waste if they want to build a Super Bowl contending team with Romo as the starting QB.
The danger of trying to do this simply through turning the clock back to 2014 is that the word is out on exactly what the Dallas Cowboys did to be so successful. While the offensive line is still in place, opposing defensive coordinators are going to be diving into the film to try to exploit any weaknesses they may see.
To counter this, it will be up to Linehan to creatively use all of his weapons in place. Elliott, Bryant, and Romo will get the bulk of the attention, but players like Brice Butler, Lucky Whitehead, Darius Jackson, and Cole Beasley will be just as important in keeping this offense fresh and creative for Linehan.
If Scott Linehan can adjust to make Darren McFadden the fourth best rusher in the league, behind the same offensive line that Zeke Elliott will run behind, there should be no excuses for his offense to put up very many clunkers this season.
The 2014 Cowboys were a joy to watch, and Cowboys Nation is eager to see that same type of team take the field in 2016 after what we witnessed in 2015. The key for this to happen?
Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan.