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Did Dallas "abandon the run" against New Orleans?

Tim's picture

I saw some commentary this morning suggesting that Garrett "gave up on the run" yesterday, because Murray only get 11 carries, and no other running back had even one, despite the fact that it wasn't a two score game until the fourth quarter.

Let me break it down for you, because in this case, those numbers are a little deceiving.

Dallas had only four possessions in the first half. On the opening drive, the second play from scrimmage was a Murray run for eight yards to convert a 2d and 5. An incomplete pass was followed by a bubble screen for a gain of seven on 2d and 10 (a down that teams run on almost all the time.) A sack on third and three ended that drive. It was a nice mix of plays, and you can't really characterize the playcalling based on one possession.

The next possession began with a six yard Murray run and ended two plays later with a 58 yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant. The third possession was a little longer – five plays instead of just three, and two of them were Murray runs, for 5 and 4 yards.

So far, so good.

But that brings us to that series right before the half. Up to that point, Murray had four carries for 23 yards, with a short run of four. With a little over a minute to halftime in a tied game, knowing you'll get the ball to start the second half, you need to run time off the clock and/or force the Saints to take their time-outs. Instead, Dallas lined up in the shotgun three times, passed three times, and punted. We'll come back to this one.

The first possession of the second half lasted eight plays before the tying field goal. Murray carried four times for thirteen yards – a total that looks worse due to one tackle for a six yard loss. But the Cowboys definitely had not "given up on the run," nor was the run "ineffective," another inaccurate comment I've read today.

Following a New Orleans punt, Dallas went three and out, with one run on the series. New Orleans punted again on their next possession, pinning Dallas deep. The only play the Cowboys ran at that point was the Murray four yard carry that ended with a lost fumble, and Murray would not touch the ball again until overtime.

On their next possession, Dallas was down by seven with four minutes left in the third quarter, which is no time to panic and abandon the run, so why did they run five passes before punting? I think it was just situational in this case. Two complete passes gave them a first down, but then a false start backed them up to 1st and 15, which was followed by three passes, two of them incomplete. Maybe one of those should have been a run, but the calls were understandable.

Dallas would not see the ball again until they trailed by 14 with only 11 minutes left in the game. I think you'd still like to see a run or two just to keep the defense honest, but this is definitely a point in the game when you need to score quickly.

In the end, the numbers show an offense badly skewed towards the pass, but when you look at each drive by itself, it doesn't quite look like a team that has "abandoned the run." That last possession of the third quarter, down by seven, seemed a little early to go all pass, but the 1st and 15 followed by 2d and 15 affected those calls.

I always want to see Dallas run the ball more, and I do think they could have done so yesterday, but the only drive where they really, really should have run it – even if every carry got stuffed – was that drive at the end of the first half. But that, I would argue, was not a playcalling mistake, it was a clock management mistake.