Cowboys want to eliminate negative run plays

Eric Edholm
Pro Football Weekly
Cowboys want to eliminate negative run plays

One of the focuses of the Cowboys’ post-bye-week practices has been a focus on fixing the run game, which ranks 31st in the NFL with 271 yards. Sure, the lack of long running plays has been troublesome, but the biggest issue might be the ones that never got started in the first place.

Through four games, they Cowboys had 14 runs that lost yards. Owner Jerry Jones has chimed in on the matter, saying on his weekly radio show that he’d “like to see us just being able to get in there and have movement when we want it in the offensive line rather than zero-yard plays or minus-yard plays.”

Head coach Jason Garrett said prior to the Ravens game that there would be no changes to the line, although reports have come out that Derrick Dockery — Jones even mentioned him during his show — could replace struggling OG Mackenzy Bernadeau at some point, possibly Sunday.

Entering the season, the plan was to use more two-back formations with FB Lawrence Vickers leading the way for RB DeMarco Murray, but Vickers' performance has been disappointing. As a lead blocker, Vickers has helped Arian Foster and Peyton Hillis rush for more than 1,000 yards each of the past two seasons, respectively, with Houston and Cleveland. Right now, Murray is on pace for only 948 yards despite gaining 131 in the opener.

The Cowboys' best running performance did come in Week One, when Vickers was on the field for 27 of the team’s 61 offensive plays, with only two negative runs. But Murray's longest run of the night accounted for 48 of the team's 143 yards, and on that play Murray created the yards with his own effort when he should have been taken down for a short gain.

Since then, Vickers’ snaps have fallen off in the three games since, with 16 in Week Two (out of 57 plays), 19 in Week Three (68 plays) and only 11 in Week Four (70 plays). In the losses to the Seahawks in Week Two and the Bears in Week Four, the Cowboys fell down by more than a touchdown, making it more of a passing game, but they still got away from their "21 personnel" quickly.

Look now for more "12" packages with one back and two tight ends. Vickers could even see himself deactivated on game days at some point if he doesn't improve on special teams, where he has had trouble blocking as the wedge on kickoffs.