The construction of the Dallas Cowboys offense reached it’s climax of sorts during this years draft when we all heard those incredible words:
The Dallas Cowboys select Ezekiel Elliott, running back, Ohio State University.
The entire NFL world erupted.
Whether you thought the pick was awful because the devaluating of the running back position over the years has shown us that investing too much into a back can be dangerous, or you thought the pick was fantastic as it solidified an offense that had already shown how great it could be, you had an opinion. And a strong one at that.
Of course us Cowboys faithful will point back to 2014 when the team produced the NFL’s leading rusher in DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys went on to a 12-4, catch away from the NFC championship game, season to justify the pick.
And, there is no question that ball control offense and a consistent running attack will improve your chances to win week by week, and especially to win in those late months of the year.
However, will it be enough for a team that seems to be shaky in so many other key areas?
Will 1,500 yards from Elliott and maybe another 800 or so from Alfred Morris and company have a big enough impact to overcome deficiencies which will be exploited in our pass rush?
It is impossible to say at this point, but when you take a look at the raw statistics over the last decade, an elite running game in terms of yards may not be enough.
Since 2006, the average record of the team with the most rushing yards in a season is 9.4-6.6.
So, about 9-7. Not great, not bad, and maybe even enough to win the division.
But 9-7 isn’t what Cowboys fans are wishing for, or even expecting.
9-7 means you have to have help to get into the playoffs, and then win three games (at least 2 of which are on the road) to even get to the Super Bowl.
And yes, I said the Super Bowl, because regardless of their 2015 record, the goal of just about every NFL team is clear right now, and it is a Super Bowl
On top of that, only three teams who won a Super Bowl over this same time span were even in the top 10 in rushing yards. Those three teams were the 2013 Seahawks, 2009 Saints, and 2007 Giants. Two of these teams (Seattle and New York) were all but carried by great defensive efforts and their pass rush at times during both the regular season and the playoffs.
Can the Cowboys really do that? The answer would seem to be no.
But don’t worry, Cowboys Nation, there is reason for hope still.
A good number of the teams who led the league in rushing since 2006 had nowhere near the offensive weapons nor the quarterback which the Cowboys will have in 2016.
There was no Dez Bryant on the 2009 Jets or the 2007 Vikings. And there was certainly no Tony Romo on the 2011 Tim Tebow-led Broncos, or on any of these 10 teams, quite frankly.
The combination of having an elite passing game and running game will create problems for every defense the Cowboys face this season, and should help to overcome the misfortunes of teams in the past.
I also don’t know if raw rushing yards are a great indicator of how good or effective of a running game the team truly has.
Consider last season’s Cowboys, for example.
Darren McFadden was fourth in the NFL in rushing yards and the Cowboys were a top ten team in rushing yards, yet they finished 4-12.
What key stat did the Cowboys running game lack? Rushing touchdowns.
Since 2006, just about every team who has led the league in rushing touchdowns, not yards, has made the playoffs, including the Carolina Panthers and Kansas City Chiefs a year ago who were tied with the Buffalo Bills for the league lead.
The 2015 Cowboys, on the other hand, ranked 21st in rushing touchdowns with only 8 on the season.
With all of that being said, the Cowboys running game and team success will be indicated by their number of rushing touchdowns, and short yardage conversions, much more than it will be indicated by their raw rushing yard totals.
Ezekiel Elliott may rush for about the same amount of yardage as McFadden did a season ago, but if he doubles or triples his number of touchdowns, both he and the Cowboys will be very happy come January.