By Taylor Mascia
As a Cowboys fan, I feel like I have an obligation to touch on the fate (whatever it may be) of the running situation in Dallas. Much has been speculated with some having gone as far as predicting Ryan Williams would eventually win the job. I’m of the opinion that it’s not such a huge question mark. I believe the team let Murray go because they are confident in the two young backs they stabled behind him in 2014. I can’t know this for sure. However, some things about the Cowboys offense in 2015 are for sure. We know they will run the ball. We know they have a great offensive line. We know the coaching staff is returning. Most importantly, Scott Linehan, the OC, will be back (as he should) managing the offense.
Dallas isn’t Linehan’s first tenure as an Offensive Coordinator. He coached the Dolphins offense for a season in 2005. He then became the HC of the Rams, coaching there 2006-2008 before moving to the Lions’ OC job 2009-2013. I think we can use his historical offenses as an directional indicator of what we’ll see from the Cowboys’ backfield in 2015.
|Rush Att.||% Rush Att.||Targets|
Note: Steven Jackson missed 4 games in both the 2007 and 2008 seasons. That’s why his % drops.
As you can see, Linehan is a big fan of the committee. DeMarco Murray was first running back since Steven Jackson to handle more than 55% of the team’s carries. It appears safe to assume Scott Linehan is a strong supporter of the committee approach unless provided with a stud runner. The Cowboys no longer have a stud so the question becomes which backs on the roster will fill the huge void left by Murray’s departure.
While last season’s run game certainly won’t be replicated in 2015, there is potential for a potent rushing attack given the group running backs the team featured in OTA’s the past month. Joseph Randle is the hands-down favorite to lead the team in rushing. In his limited touches (95) in 2014, he finished with an absurd 0.56 points per snap while averaging 6.5 YPC. That’s too small a sample for me to crown him the workhorse but it shows promise. Some questions remain regarding his durability, maturity, and pass blocking. The staff appears to share those sentiments because they have four other backs competing with Randle this offseason.
One of them is Lance Dunbar. Dunbar, besides Randle, is the only running back whom I see as having potential for a productive 2015. My feeling is Dunbar gets the Reggie Bush role because he’s smaller with great speed and a knack for pass catching.
Cowboys HC Jason Garrett was quoted three weeks ago as saying increased involvement for Dunbar in 2015 is a priority. He was third in the hierarchy last season but handled the majority (81%) of non-Murray targets out of the backfield, with a particular emphasis on screen plays. As you can see above, Linehan like to target his running backs. If he can get Dunbar into space like he did for Reggie Bush, I can see Dunbar making a solid PPR flex.
Prediction: Randle finishes season with the most carries while Dunbar finishes with most receptions.