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Rushing To Greatness

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The question on everyone’s mind these days is and will continue to be, how and better still can Jason Garrett use the wealth of running backs he has at his disposal?

With the start of training camp rapidly approaching one would think that Jason Garrett is hard at work devising a plan to optimize the abundance of talent he has at the running back position??????

The Cowboys invested #1 money on Marion Barber to be the #1 guy, but we are all aware of the fact that Marion is better suited to be fresh in the fourth quarter!

The Cowboys also used a first round selection last year on Felix Jones, so there is an extremely high need to get him touches as well.

Then let’s not forget about the 2008 unsung hero from Georgia Tech, Tashard Choice! When the Cowboys were decimated by injuries Choice stepped in and performed at an extremely high level.

These are three very different running backs which will allow Jason Garrett a ton of flexibility.

Marion Barber: Marion is the head knocker of the group, while he is not a burner so the big plays you get from him are more of the “just ran over three people on his way to a 20 yard touchdown” variety. However with his hard nosed running style his body wears down much quicker than the elusive style back.

Felix Jones: Felix is the epitome of a “Home run hitter” there is not one spot on the field where he cannot score from. Possessing speed, agility, vision, and great hands. Felix Jones is in the mold of a Reggie Bush type. For all the good qualities he possesses the one concern with him is his ability to stay off the injured list.

Tashard Choice: Tashard is very much so one of the most vocal leaders on this team. He is the most complete back of the group, while he is not the fastest or strongest he can do a lot of good in many areas. He has the ability to give opposing defenses many different looks. The only question with Tashard is, was last year legit or did he catch some teams off guard and worn down?

What is considered by many (including myself) to be the biggest strength of this years team, could possibly be a nightmare for Jason Garrett? If Garrett fails to adequately use this group, the wheels of this season could come flying off!

There has been many people try this off season to predict how many touches each man should receive on a per game basis. While there is no one good way or rule to go by, many claim a sequence such as this:

Marion Barber: 15-20 Touches

Felix Jones: 10-15 Touches

Tashard Choice: 5-10 touches

This appears to be a solid marker to follow, but I am not a big fan of this way of thinking. I just feel that if you set yourself boundaries, you ultimately are setting yourself up for failure.

The amount of touches this unit gets (designed running plays) should be and I believe will be handled on a game by game, scenario by scenario basis.

Jason Garrett needs to know what he has, and to put the player and the team in good situations. Part of knowing what he has is going to be the recognition of what situations the player performs at his peak.

Many people including myself marvel at the closing ability of Marion Barber, while this is a very true statement there is something that must be taken into account. The only time his closing ability will come into affect is if this team is ahead in the fourth quarter and that they can continue to pick up first downs.

Jason Garrett cannot become predictable with his formations or his sub packages, the defenses cannot be given the luxury of simply looking in the backfield to see who is there and know what the play is.

The Cowboys should be able to line up two if not all three on the field in certain situations.

If I was a betting man I would have to say that Felix Jones will spend a lot of time this year lined up out wide and in the slot. Allowing Garrett to give teams a full dose of Marion and Tashard early and often!

The first half of games this year will be crucial to the success of the team. They need to be able to establish the ground game early on. The score at the end of the first half is not the most important thing.

The rest of the league knows what the Cowboys have at the running back position; So Garrett will be forced to make some crucial decisions very early on in games.

Teams will simply overload the line of scrimmage and try to force Garrett to give up on the run. He must be strong willed enough to fight off the urge to open up the air attack! We all saw what happened when this team became so one dimensional last year.

Those 90’s Cowboys teams were the best at simply beating a team into submission by the 3rd quarter.  This team has something that those teams did not, depth! There is no need for 35 carries a game to one man, this team can run a different guy through the holes in the line like fans through the turnstiles!

If this team and Jason Garrett use what is available to them correctly, there will be nothing that anyone can do about it! That is one big IF though.


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11 Comments
  • https://insidethestar.com/ Doran Palmer

    It certainly is a big if, but as stated many times before, this is a great problem to have. The key will be injuries. Jones flashed enough of his speed that teams knew he was coming and going in a hurry, and they still couldn’t stop him. To start the season there won’t be any more film to watch than last year on him, and knowing that this is now a three back team, two of which most people don’t really know very well, teams will be getting burned early and often.

    It will be key to stay injury free and see how long this team can sustain that production during the year as more and more teams study the running backs.

  • Jonathan

    I couldn’t agree with you more in regards to the failings of following set numbers to distribute the ball to each RB. The situation should dictate what player is ideal. Jason Garrett should tailor his running game for each opposing team, dependent on what type of defense they are facing, what their weaknesses and strengths are, and what has worked against them in the past when playing other teams.

  • eric

    I agree with most of what you are saying. MB3 and Felix should get the bulk of the carries, but all should be utilized and they should be unpredictable with the order. Go with whoever has the hot hand and play on the opposition’s expectations.

    The only thing I disagree with is your statement “we are all aware of the fact that Marion is better suited to be fresh in the fourth quarter!”. I don’t agree. I think he can be solid when ever he plays. I wouldn’t be opposed to starting MB3, and using Tashard Choice in the cleanup roll. (I wouldn’t be opposed to TC starting and MB3 finishing either.)

    His numbers are comparable in both roles..
    In the “finisher role”
    16 games played.. 204 attempts for 975 yards and 10 TDs

    Last year as a starter
    15 games played (several which he played injured)… 238 attempts for 885 and 7 TDs

    My point is that MB3 is a solid back who runs hard and tough and can be used anytime. He may or may not be a “full time back”, but I don’t think he HAS to be with the 3 guys the Cowboys have. And I don’t buy that he is best used only in the configuration from 2007 (Julius Jones starting and MB3 finishing).

    Also Felix Jones doesn’t really have an injury history so I wouldn’t be a worry wart or be overly concerned about his “ability to stay off the injured list”.

    • bags030404

      Essentially you proved my point! you used some very good information to prove it too!

      “In the “finisher role”
      16 games played.. 204 attempts for 975 yards and 10 TDs

      Last year as a starter
      15 games played (several which he played injured)… 238 attempts for 885 and 7 TDs

      If you will look at that in one less game in which he averaged 3 more carries per game he scored 3 less TD’s and 90 less yards and his YPG went from 4.78 p/g down to 3.7 p/g!
      I am not saying he cannot be a starter, what I am saying is that about 15 carries a game is where he needs to be. I would rather have him fresh and ready to deliver 8-10 of those carries when it counts most!

  • Luis

    Unfortunately, the 90’s teams had way more power on the unit that counts more in a run oriented offense: O-Line. Emmit was able to touch the ball 20+ times because he was barely untouched until 2.45 yards after the line of scrimmage. And consistently. This trio don’t have that. That is what worries me. Forget T.O., Roy Williams bust or not, Romo and Jessica. The O-Line Needs to be a powerhouse.

    • bags030404

      Luis, while I would love to completely agree with your assessment I cannot fully agree. The O-Line was better as a whole, but what made them better in my humble opinion is that the offense as whole was dedicated to the run! They did not run just because the situation called for it! They ran because they wanted to! This line has taken a good bit of criticism and while some of it is warranted a lot of it is not. This line is HUGE one of if not the biggest in football, and big o -linemen are built for the running game, not to hold a block for what seems like 10 minutes so a receiver can run a triple move 40 yards down field!

  • eric

    “In the “finisher role”
    16 games played.. 204 attempts for 975 yards and 10 TDs

    Last year as a starter
    15 games played (several which he played injured)… 238 attempts for 885 and 7 TDs

    Do not believe this info prooves your point that “we are all aware of the fact that Marion is better suited to be fresh in the fourth quarter!”. It’s no where as simple as that.

    You forget that:
    They played 3 games with Brad Johnson as QB. Defenses were playing the run for these game. Looking at the first 5 games of the season, before Romo’s injury, he was averaging 4.12 yards a carry, and had 5 TDs. The next game Romo got injured. And the next few games (TB, Giants, and Skins) he did have a decline while defenses keyed on the run. Shortly after he got injured. He tried to play injured against some very tough defenses late in the season and it really dragged down his “yards per carry” stat. Still he had 7 TDs and only 90 less yards than the year before.
    I’ll add too that I believe that the OL under-performed in middle part of the season. Just my opinion.. but just didn’t seem like they were doing very well in creating holes for the run in OctNov (because Kosier was out?)

    So, my point is that you can’t really say that the stats above clearly show that “15 carries a game” is where he “NEEDS to be”, and that “better suited to be fresh in the fourth quarter!”.

    I defintely agree with you that I’d rather them split the carries up and use all 3 backs (in any order that works). My reasoning though is that they have 3 good RBs, so they might as well use them all to keep them all fresh and the defenses off balance. My reasoning ISN’T that MB3 cannot handle the load and can only be most successful as a “finisher”.

    • bags030404

      I never said anywhere in this article that “Marion can only play the finisher role!” I simply said that he is better suited for being in there and fresh in the 4th Q! It is not a knock against him! In fact it is a compliment! Do you not want your most punishing and polished RB in there to close out a game? I hate to bust your bubble again but the numbers you are using to prove your statement are the exact reason why he needs to be fresh for the 4th Q! Do you remember Julius Jones? Yes that guy played here and he started and MBIII made a name for himself and received a huge contract for closing out games! Do you remember the playoff loss to the Giants, when he rushed for over a hundred in the first half of his first start, only to be visibly worn down in the second half and the dominant rush attack from the first half was non existent? I am not saying that it is a “theory” that MBIII would be better suited for the closer role, it is fact and has been proven time and time again! Just in case you missed those games last year against the really tough defenses, there was a little guy named TC and he had zero problems finding the holes that the OL opened! We will save the OLine discussion for another day though, maybe my next post will be about that! Good idea Eric thanks.

  • https://insidethestar.com/ Doran Palmer

    Eric, there’s one fact about MBIII that proves that he is better suited as a closer in most capacities – his first year as a starter and he suffered two injuries that hampered for the final quarter of the season. Injuries being what they are, you can’t say for sure that 5they were caused by the extra carries and his bruising style, but it’s a good bet and one the Cowboys likely won’t flirt with again.

    Another fact – he made the Pro Bowl as the closer but not as the starter. It’s not a definite ideal since Pro Bowl voting can be fickle at times.

    The numbers you posted seem to indicate that he was more successful in the closer role because his yards per carry were higher, his total yards were higher, and he had more TDs. Factors such as injuries and the passing game/quarterback play do factor into it, of course, but you have to take everything as a package. 2008 showed that Barber is more effective as a closer.

    As for the O-Line, you are close to being right about Kosier. Kosier missed most of the season. The running game got better when Holland was in there, but when Proctor was in there, Adams and Gurode were both helping him keep his blocks which diminished their own production and in turn hurt the running lanes.

    Barber is a good back, he gets the job done. He isn’t a home run hitter by any means, though. To me, MBIII is better suited as a fullback because he is tough, has a strong running style, and he can block very well. An NFL team can still utilize a fullback in today’s league and if we did so as the early 90’s Cowboys, then we could see similar success with Jones and Choice to what Emmett saw back then with Moose blocking for him.

  • eric

    I really don’t understand what you are reading, bags.

    bags030404: I never said anywhere in this article that “Marion can only play the finisher role!”
    I never said that you said that. You did say though that ““We are all aware of the fact that Marion is better suited to be fresh in the fourth quarter!”.”
    That’s your opinion (and a theory) but hardly a fact. Those particular statistics by themselves only show a small percentage of the picture and do not make your opinion a fact, that’s all I’m saying. It’s a bit pompous of you to post your opinion as fact, though I admit it is your right. Blogs are well sutied for personal opinions and observations. I’m glad you have some passion about it and will continue to read more of your opinions in the future cause I love talking Cowboys.

    bags030404: there was a little guy named TC and he had zero problems finding the holes that the OL opened!
    Yes he did very well, but notice these were in later games. It was my contention that the OL under performed in the MIDDLE OF THE SEASON (OctoberNovember as stated). Choice had all of 20ish attempts in those months so your statement has nothing to do with my point. We just don’t know what MB3 would’ve done in December if he was healthy so it’s moot.
    On the subject of Choice though, since you brought it up, my opinion is that the verdict is still out. He had a great December, but I seem to remember Julius Jones having a decent season in there before slipping into mediocrity.

  • bags030404

    “That’s your opinion (and a theory) but hardly a fact. Those particular statistics by themselves only show a small percentage of the picture and do not make your opinion a fact, that’s all I’m saying. It’s a bit pompous of you to post your opinion as fact, though I admit it is your right.”
    Forgive me if I came across as pompous, but I am a numbers kind of a guy! Numbers do not lie! and in the case of MBIII and when he is better suited to be used is no different! It is a proven fact that when he carries the ball less than 15 times per game his yards per carry increase by almost a full yard per carry! This is not a “Theory” this is “Fact”! I love having these types of discussions so keep them coming! By all means if you have some information that can prove me wrong bring it!

Dallas Cowboys

5 Points: Analyzing the 2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule

Sean Martin

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5 Points: Thoughts on the 2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule 1
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Every year around this time, sports fans everywhere are reminded of just how dominant the National Football League is. The NFL schedule release is literally just the sharing of a calendar that has little meaning until after next week's NFL Draft, but still dominates headlines both before and after the event.

If the Dallas Cowboys are going to return to the playoffs in 2018, we now know the path they will take -- beginning on September 9th in Carolina against the Panthers.

Here are five of my initial thoughts on this team's schedule.

1. "Early" Bye Week Still Later Than Recent Seasons

The Cowboys' bye week falls in week eight this season, which is certainly nothing new. This team is used to having their bye earlier in the season, but week eight is actually the latest it's been over the last three seasons.

In Dak Prescott's rookie season, the Cowboys rolled to six straight wins following their bye week - all part of a longer 11 game win streak. In 2017, the Cowboys played their final three games with Ezekiel Elliott after the bye, improving to 5-3 and inspiring hope for a salvageable season before further injuries piled up.

This season, the Cowboys will come out of their bye week to host Monday Night Football at AT&T Stadium against the Tennessee Titans.

5 Points: Thoughts on the 2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule

2. AFC South to Play A Huge Factor

Speaking of the Titans, it is the NFC East's year to face off against the AFC South. This has been an unpredictable division as of late, with the Jacksonville Jaguars emerging as early favorites following their improbable run to the AFC Championship Game.

Unlike the NFC East, the AFC South has been decided by who maintains stability at quarterback. The Colts are hoping to contend with Andrew Luck back on the field in 2018, as are the Texans with second-year QB Deshaun Watson.

The Titans overhauled their coaching staff in hopes of progressing QB Marcus Mariota further to make a run at the playoffs once again.

For the Cowboys, their meetings with the AFC South will carry extra weight - as all but one of them precedes a divisional game in some sense. Following back to back games at the Texans and home against the Jaguars, the Cowboys will visit the Redskins in week seven.

The first shot Dallas will get at the defending Super Bowl champions will be November 11th in Philadelphia, two weeks removed from their bye after facing the Titans.

Coming out of two games in 12 days through weeks 12 (Thanksgiving) and 13, the Cowboys will have little chance to come up for air against the Eagles in week 14. Their chance to regroup may come the following week, with a favorable December road game in Indianapolis against the Colts.

3. Revenge Against the Falcons

The Cowboys' week 10 game a year ago in Atlanta is truly where the 2017 season was lost. Playing without Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys looked lost on offense thanks to the added absence of All-Pro Left Tackle Tyron Smith.

The Cowboys' fight to carry on at 5-4 was buried into the Falcons' new turf, as was Dak Prescott that afternoon, sacked eight times.

Only a week removed on the calendar from meeting the Falcons on the same date, the Cowboys will again play at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in week 11 this season. The chance for revenge against the Falcons will also mark the only pair of consecutive road games this 2018 Dallas Cowboys team will play.

Cowboys en Español: 3

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

4. Running Through December

The national media may not want you to know that the Cowboys are a combined 6-2 in December over the last two seasons, as this team's fabled late season collapses remain a topic of conversation.

This point also stands as a great example of why breaking down team schedules in April is often a pointless exercise, but not obsessing over every twist and turn of the NFL as a yearly hobby is no fun. According to me.

It is no secret that the Cowboys will be relying heavily on Ezekiel Elliott in 2018, expecting their star running back to suit up for 16 games and carry the offense. If you believe that Prescott and Elliott paired together full-time again is enough reason for optimism about the Cowboys, their December schedule becomes even more favorable.

Aside from playing three of the four games indoors and away from the elements, the Cowboys will face three of the worst rushing defenses in yards per game allowed from last season in December. With the Eagles being the glaring exception (leading the league in this category), the Cowboys should have their way on the ground with the Colts, Buccaneers, and Giants over their final three games.

5. Thanksgiving Tradition

For the second time in three seasons, the Dallas Cowboys will host the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys were victorious on Thanksgiving in 2016 over the Redskins, 31-26.

The Cowboys have only lost to the Redskins once on Thanksgiving, facing them a total of eight times and dropping a 2012 bout with Washington 38-31 (Robert Griffin III's rookie season with the Redskins).

Riding a four game winning streak against the Redskins, the Cowboys get to face an Alex Smith led Washington team on Thanksgiving to wrap up their first series against the NFC East. Following week 12, the Cowboys will still have meetings with the Eagles and New York Giants.

Some may look at this year's division as a two-team race, but counting absolutely any team out of an NFC East race is foolish - even more so in April.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

By this time next week, the Dallas Cowboys have a chance to look entirely different - adding as many as ten players at the 2018 NFL Draft. Only then will we have a better feel for how they stack up against this 2018 schedule.

Stay posted right here to Inside The Star for draft coverage live from Dallas, as I will be at AT&T Stadium for all seven rounds of picks alongside Slant Sports Draft Analyst Nick Flaherty.

Tell us what you think about "5 Points: Analyzing the 2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!


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Player News

Cowboys TE James Hanna Retiring

Jess Haynie

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James Hanna

In an unexpected bit of pre-draft news, Dallas Cowboys backup tight end James Hanna will be retiring after six seasons. He was drafted by the Cowboys in sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

The news of Hanna's retirement was first reported by ESPN's Todd Archer:

Todd Archer on Twitter

The Cowboys will place James Hanna on the reserve/retired list as the tight end could not get over a serious knee condition that troubled him for most of the last two seasons, according to sources. Hanna was not involved in the early part of the team's... https://t.co/45BAZ2avSC

Hanna, who turns 29 in July, missed all of 2016 with that knee issue and has had two surgeries. He was active for all 16 games last season but wasn't used much on offense, only having four catches. James did catch his first and only NFL touchdown in the team's Week 4 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

Many thought Hanna would be a salary cap casualty this offseason, but a retirement has the same effect on the cap. The Cowboys now save $2.75 million off his scheduled $3.5 mullion cap hit in 2018.

James Hanna has stuck around this long thanks to being a proficient blocker and one of the standout players on special teams. Geoff Swaim, entering the final year of his rookie deal, will likely be trusted to fill those roles.

That said, tight end was already a targeted position for the Cowboys in next week's draft. Losing Hanna only give the team more incentive to add more talent.


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Optimistic Reports Emerge Around Randy Gregory

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Randy Gregory, Eagles
Eric Hartline / USA TODAY Sports

Good news are coming to Dallas just in time. Less than a week from now, the NFL Draft will be held in the Cowboys' home, the AT&T Stadium. But the team may count with a defensive talent many in Cowboys Nation have tried to forget for a while now. Randy Gregory's comeback may just happen.

There's a lot of positions in the roster that need more help than the defensive end one, but after finding the "War Daddy" Jerry Jones has always wanted in DeMarcus Lawrence, finding a RDE this offseason would be a dream scenario.

Sure, there's a lot of young talent in this football team and they'll be coming off a season that put a chip on their shoulders. Even so, they'll need all the help they can get.

Fortunately for the Cowboys, some help could come in form of a very talented pass rusher. Randy Gregory is reportedly applying for reinstatement very soon and according to Mike Fisher and Bobby Belt, there are positive reports around the situation.

Bobby Belt on Twitter

Randy Gregory update: I'm told there is real momentum building. He is expected to apply for reinstatement in the week or two following next week's NFL Draft.

Cowboys Nation last saw the second round pick back in 2016, but his potential shouldn't be forgotten. Of course, the Cowboys shouldn't be considering Gregory for their 2018 plans, simply because there's risk of him not being available.

Even still, Dallas may get lucky at defensive end. After DeMarcus Lawrence has a breakout season in 2017, imagine the defensive line with Randy Gregory reinstated and rehabilitated to exploit his talent in the NFL.

mike fisher ✭ on Twitter

UPDATE: We're told Randy Gregory camp is ready to present to NFL the fact the #Cowboys DE has passed a large number of drug tests, hasn't failed one since July 2016. https://t.co/Hjgu2CqRtC

Despite some TMZ "reports", it looks like Gregory has been clean for a while. It sure should make Cowboys' fans happy and not only form a football perspective. A comeback would definitely be something amazing. He has a chance to write a unique story for himself.

Everyone likes second-chance stories. Gregory is a guy who had his share of problems. By coming back to the NFL, he's showing players and fans that change is possible. This wouldn't just be epic for Dallas Cowboys fans but NFL fans in general.

If Dallas is fortunate enough to see Gregory reinstated by the NFL, their fight in the trenches might see a big upgrade next season. Randy still has a lot to work on and he might not even be a starter right away, but the potential is right there.

The Cowboys could become a team capable of dominating the line of scrimmage both on offense and on defense.

Hopefully, Gregory is able to come back and shine as a professional player. He, and NFL fans deserve a story like that.

Tell me what you think about "Optimistic Reports Emerge Around Randy Gregory" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!


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