Randle: He’s Got the Whole Game (Maybe) in His Hands…

Joseph Randle

Or more accurately, on his shoulders.

The Dallas Cowboys are primed for another Broncos-like track meet this Sunday, when they face the Philadelphia Eagles.  The characteristics for both games are similar.  As with the Denver matchup, this game will pit two of the top scoring offenses in the league, the Cowboys ranking 2nd and the Eagles 4th.  Like that Broncos shootout, we’ll see two struggling defenses, with the Cowboys sitting 25th in scoring while the Eagles lag farther behind, at 29th.  Philly is allowing 30 points per game on average, just what the Cowboys are scoring.

What’s more, the Eagles cannot stop the pass; they rank 31st in yards allowed, one spot below the porous Cowboys secondary.  They’re a prime target for Tony Romo’s passing attack, which started the Broncos game gunslinging and has not changed its approach.

The matchup looks promising when the Cowboys have the football, but an injury to Dallas’ top runner may hamstring their deep passing plans.  DeMarco Murray injured a knee early in the Redskins game, leaving after just seven carries.  His departure hobbled the rushing attack.  The average per attempt plummeted from 4.1 yards per rush when Murray carried to ball to a woeful 1.5 YPA when rookie Joseph Randle took over.

Just as important, Murray’s departure slowed the Cowboys’ passing attack, which was so potent against the Broncos.  Dallas finally has the confidence that its offensive line can handle four and even five man rushes unaided, so offensive coordinator Bill Callahan has spread the field the last two weeks to a degree not seen before.  He has used four receiver sets and emptied the backfield regularly, flexing tight end Jason Witten and Murray into space.  When the Broncos and Redskins tried blitzing five and six men, Murray offered the line assistance.  He’s strong at blitz pickup,

The protection leaked after Murray was injured.  James Hanna and Randle shared Murray’s blocking duties, but could not identify and stop Redskins blitzers as effectively.  This deprived Tony Romo of numerous downfield attempts.  He had to scramble and look for checkdown targets Sunday night, where he was able to stand and scan against Denver.

The challenge for the coaches this week, to my eyes, is replacing Murray’s solid protection.  The Eagles run a 3-4 package and have some young, promising front seven talent.  If they can rattle Romo, or just move him around, as Washington did in the second half, they can slow him enough to win, as the Chargers did three weeks ago.  If Dallas can again find a six-man blocking seal, Romo can bomb away as he did against Denver.

Injuries may force some creativity.  Second string back Lance Dunbar has the running shake and the will to block, but like Murray, he’s injured.  If his hamstring isn’t healthy enough, the Cowboys will again start Randle.

The rookie may be up to it.  There’s a big difference between 1st team reps and second team reps.  A full week of practice may allow him to step up.  That’s the shortest answer to success.

If he can’t, the Cowboys may move Jason Witten more into the backfield as an F-back, and use more four receivers sets, or work Hanna and Gavin Escobar as the on-the-line Y options.  The Cowboys may lose some production from the tight end spot, the better blocking would allow Romo to compensate, with compound interest.

Running back blocking seems like a small detail, but it can have a big effect on the game.  We saw it last week, and we’ve seen it in the Chiefs, Chargers and Broncos losses, where small mistakes have led to big frowns on Monday morning.

Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Senior Analyst Cowboys Nation.com at Sports Talk Line
Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ TheBoys.com in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for SportsTalkLine.com
Rafael Vela

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  • Sprinters1

    Tanner is a better back. The ONLY reason Randle is starting over him is because of draft status. Tanner has better vision is a better blocker and runs just as hard. Hopefully just like with Beasley they get the message on Tanner and sees more playing time.

  • StillHateTheGiants

    Tanner is not even in the conversation? No mention? Did I miss something, is he hurt?

    • Did you see last week’s game? When Murray left the game, the coaches played Randle for the rest of the game. Tanner got in here and there but his reps show he’s the 4th stringer now.

      • Football Mensa

        Tanner shouldn’t be on the team. Great guy. Below average player.

        • Fan since 1966

          Tanner is one of the core ST guys that plays on all the units. Comparing the preseason STs disaster with their performance since Game 1, and esp how they contributed to Sunday’s W, I am VERY happy to have Tanner and the other unsung heroes on the team and doing the unrecognized/under-appreciated dirty work on kicks and punts!

          • Football Mensa

            I understand your point but as a rb the guy offers nothing. So when he is getting snaps it’s a bad sign for the offense..

      • StillHateTheGiants

        He must be really bad because Randall showed me absolutely nothing

  • MadMick

    Isn’t it closer to 24 PPG by the actual offense considering the four bonus TD’s scored by defense and special teams through six games? And that’s a figure jacked up significantly by scoring 48 against the Broncos; 107 total (by the offense) in five other games.

    Once those bonus scores dry up I fear more of the usual weenie losses where the offense pitter patters to a screeching halt for quarters or whole halves; especially with the sh_t shot shape the defense is in. It shouldn’t happen against the Eagles unless they get themselves into a hole and simply won’t be able to keep up but it gives me pause going forward.

    At any rate, this is the running back stable the team chose to go into the season with and they knew well the limitations and unreliability of all the players going in. Now it’s their job to scheme around the mess. Hindsight’s a bummer but I’m thinking Eddie Lacy would be a better piece to have for this season than that eternally coveted extra tight end.

  • Fan since 1966

    For goodness sake, do whatever it takes to protect Tony first and foremost and worry about anything else second. Another broken collarbone (or worse!) and our little won ton ain’t just fried, it’s burned to a charred crisp….

  • AustonianAggie

    I’d hate to see Witten stuck blocking as a RB would, in his HB role, but realistically, he’s the guy I have most confidence in. I believe Escobar could replace some of Witten’s catches, but no one could as easily replace Murray’s blocking as Witten could, sans a solid performance from Randle

  • Michael

    The offense has looked much better this season vs 4-3 fronts than 3-4 fronts. It is a lot easier to get a good pass rushing matchup against the RB out of a 3-4 look. Could be trouble because I don’t think Randle is big or strong enough enough to stand up blitzers.

    He is also pretty slow. He was a strange pick as undersized and slow usually don’t go together.

    • AustonianAggie

      I don’t see 6′ and 207 lbs as undersized — that’s about normal size for a RB. Murray is 6′ 215lbs. But while Murray has speed as an asset, Randle doesn’t have a size or speed asset. I’ve read that his strongest asset coming out of college was his pass blocking, so he has that going for him

  • zarathustraNU

    Hopefully Randle progresses quickly in that area…I’m willing to believe that his poor performances thus far have been part of the learning curve (if the issue is awareness, not physical want-to), but hoping he gets up to speed fast.

    Anybody know how Tanner is at blitz pickup? Wondering how much play he’ll get this week.

  • jarhead

    Its no small detail, its key (unless the iggles for some reason refuse to blitz). Color me skeptical on the kid’s blocking skills….on romo’s (rather great) play where he hit williams in the back of the end zone, the rook totally whiffed on his block. Ugh. Romo bailed him out. Anyone remember how romo got hurt against the giants in a recent season?