Running On Fumes

Don't look now Cowboys fans, but your beloved organization has major issues that are rushing to the forefront of the priority list. Real life, "toting the rock," pre-Draft conundrums.

Julius Jones has left for the Pacific Northwest, and Tyson Thompson was rendered tender-less. The organizational cupboards have become severely depleted, and everyone wants to know if Ol' Mother Hubbard-Jones plans to re-stock the backfield shelves. If nothing more than the simple law of numbers…

They must!!

Look no further than the month of April. The 2008 NFL Draft must become the Dallas version of Sam's Wholesale. They cannot afford to shop at Neiman-Marcus or Nordstrom's looking for the new Darren McFadden collection, so they must find an alternative line in the discount aisle. If they find the right bin, they need to grab a couple of blue light specials. It would be prudent to come away with two running backs in the 2008 collegiate take. Making matters a bit more pressing is the fact one of the acquisitions must possess talent and skill sufficient enough to obtain starter status.

It's hoped they already know this, but the Cowboys can't seriously think Marion Barber III is their 2008 feature back. Not without a complimentary running mate. If the team's human wrecking ball is counted on to carry the ball 20-25 times a game, problems will mount. Those problems could be several in nature, but no bigger than the potential injury risk. Yes, it's that style that endures him to everyone, most importantly the fan base. If some team were to both meet and exceed the qualifying tender without a Cowboys' match, there would be a major outcry in Big D, and rightfully so.

By process of elimination and prox, the Barbarian has become the "heart and soul" of Wade Phillips' pigskin soldiers. He sets the tone, and his physical toughness resonates with teammates and fans alike. He is the fuel which runs this championship-potential machine. No fuel, no run for the hardware. Receiving a first and third selection in this year's Draft would be the Cowboys' payback, but why risk losing the precious commodity and emptying the cupboards at the same time. Not good business.

This is not an indictment of the Dallas Cowboys and their love lost of Julius Jones. Both greatly needed a change of scenery, and it's hoped, present company included, Julius has some highlight moments in Seattle. Without question, if any team was going to secure his services, it had to be Seattle. They certainly possess the game film to justify their decision. Hopefully Walter Jones can be the cog that allows Julius to finally put on his full, season long, display. He's certainly capable, and maybe the venue change is all that's needed. While only time will tell, he is wished the very best as he starts a new professional chapter in his life. Just leave that jersey behind for Pacman's arrival.

Turning the sites back to the Cowboys, why is MBIII a Pro Bowl player? Heart, soul, tenacity, determination and his Sundance Kid personae. Contrary to popular belief, he's not a solo act, at least not in totality. He operates best with a partner in yardage crime. He's one dynamic piece of a necessary tandem. He could probably pull off the isolation act for a few games into the 2008 season, but it wouldn't last long. Look no further than the second half of the divisional playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champions.

Yes, the outside threats, Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn, were dinged and gassed, but Steve Spagnuolo's troops finally figured out the battering ram's tendencies and pathways. They rendered MBIII highly average in the Cowboys' last game of their highly-successful 2007 campaign. The Cowboys really don't need much other proof than the Giants' game, but should additional support be needed for a running mate plea, look no further than the offensive line.

Surely, I miss-typed, right? This, the same line which sent three members to Hawaii for the 2007 Pro Bowl, how could they be contributors? Here's a stark reality, they're marginal when it comes to run-blocking. Hudson Houck has his work cut out for him, and his hire may be the best off-season acquisition the organization made. He sure had the big uglies of the early ‘90's positioned to steamroll opponents into the ground, no quarter more telling than the vaunted final stanza. The Cowboys mauled opponents to death with Emmitt Smith owning fourth quarters from San Francisco to the Meadowlands. It was a work of art. The Cowboys greatly need to return to this effectiveness, and while nowhere near the athleticism possessed by the former Houck's hogs, this group is talented enough to step up their running game effectiveness. They must if they desire to snap this God-awful playoff drought.

Before the naysayers start the proverbial "yeah, but Barber was a Pro Bowler nonsense," let's not lose sight that offensively this team was a "throw first" unit. The running game was a product of the aerial attack. A side bar, side show, side kick to the Romo, Owens and Witten trio. Nowhere was this more evident than the month of December and the one and done playoff game. To be blunt, and this will cut against everything new offensive coordinator, Jason Garrett, brought to the table in 2007, but he tried to outsmart the Giants and ended up outsmarting himself. The offensive game plan going into the divisional playoff showdown was severely flawed.

Even if New York prepped to address both Owens and Glenn out of the chute, Garrett failed to properly play into that defensive philosophy. When your wide-outs are banged up, especially with faulty wheels, you must exploit them early and often. Throw, throw and throw until they can no longer go because time was going to run the tanks dry, and it did. The shame was having no production to go along with the empty fuel cells. It was negligence of the deadliest order. Running decoy routes, while feeding the Giants Barber food by the truckload, was the recipe for needless disaster. You always take the health into the second half of any contest, especially one that commanded a win to continue.

When the Cowboys had to rely on their running game, it was simply marginal by League-wide standards. They finished in the middle of the pack as it pertained to running the ball. Holding down the middle rankings is not going to win you any championships. Bank it. This team lived and died by the pass. They had to, and once Terrell Owens was rendered less than 100%, the Cowboys came back to the pack. Their running deficiencies did them in when things counted most. Wade and Houck, this must change, and it must change immediately. The 2008 running attack must produce a top 10 ranking or all involved can completely discard any hardware talk. It's really that simple. Sure, other aspects of the team need to be shored up in conjunction, but if you think this is anything but Priority #1, you're completely fooling yourself.

Was keeping Julius Jones or Tyson Thompson the answer? No. If they don't find an adequate replacement, some capable of taking the running game to another level, then the pro-Julius faction will be back in full force. The good news in all this is the fact the 2008 Draft is running back stocked. Some experts think richly-stocked, but that's a monumental stretch. It contains talent and potential promise, and that's a good thing. For all those Darren McFadden must-haves, there are many reasons the Cowboys shouldn't charge up the batting order hopefully positioning themselves to select the Razorback phenom, but none more telling than "shelf life." In the spoiled and rich history of Cowboys running backs, everyone must realize Tony Dorsett and Emmitt were rarities. Rarities which were beneficiaries of fantastic offensive lines and offensive playbook and personnel diversity. These are exceptions, not the rules.

You don't pay gazillions of dollars for a position player whose average NFL career is the equivalent of a one-term President. That, ladies and gentlemen, is not prudent spending. If McFadden were suddenly coming down the slippery slope and venturing into the possibility of falling out of the Top 10, then the Cowboys can mount their consideration proposals, but until then, sit still.

There were the names of Warrick Dunn, Kevin Jones and Tatum Bell being thrown around like Frisbees. No thanks. Things you don't acquire when seeking a running back are age and/or injuries. It's wasted money. Of all the names out there in the 2008 off-season, only Derrick Ward would have been a consideration worth assessing. Yes, the injury questions were there, but youth was on his side, and it never hurts to cut into the champion's deck of cards. The Giants were wise to re-up with Ward. So, Jerry, Stephen and Wade must rely on any notes left behind by Jeff Ireland. Hopefully the homework is sufficient enough for Tom Ciskowski and others to advise the brass accordingly. Regardless of which name(s) are selected, the heart and soul needs a play/running mate. Once in the stable, Hudson Houck and Skip Peete are looked upon to breath new life into the Cowboys running game. It's imperative it's an improvement over the 2007 model, for if it's not, the Cowboys and Jason Garrett will have to live with the massive one that got away.

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