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Cowboys Biggest Problem: A Historically Bad Running Game

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Charles Johnson #95 of the Carolina Panthers tackles  Felix Jones #28 of the Dallas Cowboys during their game at Bank of America Stadium on October 21, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Charles Johnson #95 of the Carolina Panthers tackles Felix Jones #28 of the Dallas Cowboys during their game at Bank of America Stadium on October 21, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Averaging 78.7 yards rushing per game — just 3.5 yards a carry — the Cowboys are on pace for their worst rushing season since the very first year of the franchise in 1960.

In that inaugural 0-11-1 campaign, the less than legendary L.G. Dupre led the Cowboys in rushing as they averaged 3.4 yards an attempt. However, that 1960 team actually averaged more yards rushing per game (87.4) than this year’s team.

Furthermore, this year’s offense has continued a disturbing trend from last season. The 2011 Cowboys managed a franchise worst five rushing touchdowns. This year’s unit isn’t much better. With just five rushing TDs in 11 games this season (10 in the last 27 games), the 2011-12 Cowboys are even worse than the 1960-61 Cowboys (12 rushing TDs in 26 games).

And that brings us to the root of this team’s woes. It’s those big pachyderms in the offensive line, as Barry Switzer used to call them. They are the elephants in the room that everybody can see, but very few want to talk about.

Who wants to talk about anonymous offensive linemen when the “faces of the franchise” – the owner, coach, and quarterback – are such easy targets?

In Jason Garrett’s first three years as Cowboys offensive coordinator (2007-09), the Cowboys had a 33-15 record (.688), averaged 116 yards rushing per game (4.4 per carry), and 13 rushing TDs per season.

Contrast that with the 5-6 record (.455), 78.7 yards (3.5 per rush), and five TDs that this year’s group has produced. And we haven’t even mentioned the 39 sacks allowed last year, the same pace they’re on this season.

So, what’s the difference between the 2007-09 Cowboys and the current team?

Well, the Cowboys invested heavily in the offensive line during that time. LT Flozell Adams (2nd round), LG Kyle Kosier (7th round), C Andre Gurode (2nd round), RG Leonard Davis (1st round), and RT Marc Colombo (1st round) were all established veteran players.

When Dallas went 13-3 in 2007, Adams was 32 years old while Kosier, Gurode, Davis, and Colombo were all age 29, in the prime of their careers. Adams was signed to a six-year, $42 million extension ($15 million guaranteed) in 2008. Kosier got five years, $15 million in 2006. Gurode’s deal was for six years, $30 million ($10 million guaranteed) in 2007. Davis came here on a seven-year, $49 million deal ($18.75 million guaranteed) in 2007. Colombo earned $11.5 million guaranteed after making good on his original two-year, $7 million Cowboys contract.

Between them, that offensive line earned 13 Pro Bowl appearances and was the strength of the team from 2007-09 as the team went 13-3, 9-7, and 11-5 with two playoff appearances.

Even during a 6-10 season in 2010, an offensive line of Doug Free, Kosier, Gurode, Davis, and Colombo wasn’t as bad, as the Cowboys averaged 112 yards rushing per game (4.2 per carry).

However, the correct decision was made to jettison 60% of that offensive line last year with the release of three 33-year-olds, Gurode, Colombo, and Davis. And, after an injury plagued 2011, 34-year old Kosier was let go this year.

So, what has that left the Cowboys with in 2011-12? Well, as expected, it’s been a work in progress. This team hasn’t had enough draft picks or cap money to fill all the holes, especially when a draft day decision is made to trade a premium 2nd-round pick to move up and draft an elite cornerback with the 6th overall selection.

So, you’re left with a raw 21-year-old 1st round pick (Tyron Smith) at left tackle; a 30-year old undrafted free agent (Nate Livings) at left guard; an injured undrafted free agent (Phil Costa) and a journeyman veteran (Ryan Cook) at center; a 26-year-old 7th round pick (Mackenzy Bernadeau) at right guard; and a 28-year-old 4th round pick (Doug Free) at right tackle.

Oh, and you also haven’t had your top running back the past six weeks.

And, when you have all that, what do you get?

Well, through 11 games this season, you get the worst running game in 52 years of Dallas Cowboys football.

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