It’s been so far, so good for the new-look Dallas Cowboys. The team’s 3-1 start has been terrific for a club that is trying to put a 4-12 season behind them. Rookie signal-caller Dak Prescott has been unspectacular but solid, while 2016 first-round draft choice Ezekiel Elliott appears to be just getting warmed up.
But while the quarterback and head coach Jason Garrett get either the credit or the blame for the team’s performance, there’s been a very steady hand with the club in the form of current offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
The veteran coach has made the rounds in the National Football League, even serving a short stint as the head coach of the then-St. Louis Rams. But he has really found himself in his current position and it began when he took over as the team’s play-caller in 2014, despite the fact that he owned the title of passing game coordinator at the time.
Talk about consistency when it comes to the game plan? With stars such as quarterback Tony Romo, wide receiver Dez Bryant and prolific tight end Jason Witten at his disposal during his first year with the club, many felt that Linehan would open up the playbook and continue the recent team trend of putting the ball in the air continuously – whether the Cowboys were winning or losing a game.
Under Linehan’s guidance, Dallas has played a total of 38 games (including 2 postseason tilts in 2014). The Cowboys have totaled 20-plus rushing attempts in 36 of those contests and have amassed at least 120 yards on the ground in 23 of those outings.
So why didn’t it work in 2015, when running back Darren McFadden totaled 1,089 yards on the ground? The fact was that the Cowboys ran the ball exactly 100 fewer times (408) than they did the previous season (508). And that year, running back DeMarco Murray totaled 392 carries for 1,845 yards on his own. In ’15, Dallas rushed for 1,890 yards AS A TEAM. Of course, using four different starting quarterbacks certainly didn’t help when it came to continuity.
This season, Garrett’s squad has racked up at least 30 running plays in each of its first four contests. The Cowboys have rushed for 190-plus yards in their last two contests. The offensive line remains formidable and has played extremely well despite some recent bumps and bruises.
Now you know why Jerry Jones and Stephen Jones invested the fourth overall pick in April on Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott. Slowly but surely the rookie has been making his presence felt. In Sunday’s comeback win over the San Francisco 49ers, he totaled 23 carries for 138 yards and a score in a 24-17 victory. Elliott has already totaled 92 carries for 412 yards and three touchdowns. That’s 23 attempts per game and that sounds like a lot, but this was a player used to a heavy workload in each of this final two seasons with the Buckeyes.
There’s obviously a long way to go and it’s much too early to put any team in the league in the playoffs. And it will be interesting to see what the team does once Romo is healthy and ready to return. But the Cowboys are back to doing what they did best two seasons ago. And it’s a tried-and-true philosophy that will keep you in the championship hunt – regardless of who your quarterback is.