Thursday, December 17, 1998
Cowboys rush to rejuvenate ground game
By MIKE BALDWIN
The Daily Oklahoman
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys can't run from the reasons
they're experiencing a late-season slump -- they're having difficulty
establishing and stopping the run.
There is a common theme in Dallas' three- game losing streak:
Opponents have won the battle in the trenches. It had less of
an impact Thanksgiving Day when Minnesota outrushed the Cowboys
118-58. But the past two weeks Dallas has been outrushed 296-59.
One reason the rushing statistics have been so lopsided is
the Cowboys have played catch- up in the second half. Opponents
have had more rushing attempts, but they've also averaged 5.0
yards per carry the past three weeks, compared to Dallas' anemic
Coach Chan Gailey and his staff have spent the past 48 hours
reviewing tape of what made them successful in earlier games
and compared that to the recent slump. Gailey can't divulge this
week's game plan, but promises alterations, possibly personnel
It's no coincidence Dallas was 8-3 when running back Emmitt
Smith averaged 4.4 yards a carry and 95.7 yards a game. During
the three- game losing streak, Smith has averaged 2.0 yards a
carry and 30.7 yards a game. Obviously, the blocking hasn't been
as effective, but it's more complicated than that.
"If it was one thing, you'd feel much better about trying
to work it out," Gailey said. "You can never sit down
in this game and say, 'OK, if we just fix that one little thing
then everything will be good.' That's not the way it runs."
When the ground attack bogs down it places more pressure on
the passing game. And this is a team that lost wide receiver
Ernie Mills to a season-ending abdomen injury and played the
second half last week without Michael Irvin.
"It's just vital, especially in the NFC, that we get
a running game going," guard Nate Newton said. "That
helps keep the pressure off Troy (Aikman). We've just got to
work harder and concentrate a little better and execute."
Constantly faced with third-and-long situations, the Cowboys
have converted only 9 of 27 third-down chances the past two games.
"Any time you're not moving the football or scoring points,
there are breakdowns as to why things aren't going as smoothly
as you would like," Aikman said. "Its not one particular
thing. It's a breakdown here or there at different positions.
That stalls drives."
Injuries are a factor. Offensively, tight end David LaFleur
suffered a sprained knee in the loss to New Orleans. LaFleur,
a key blocker and receiving threat, is doubtful for Sunday's
game, but should return for the regular-season finale.
Defensively, the Cowboys have started inexperienced cornerbacks
in recent weeks. As a result, strong safety Darren Woodson has
been used less to support the run.
This week's opponent, Philadelphia, is 30th in total offense
but ranked 14th on the ground behind Duce Staley's 901 yards
"Our No. 1 goal is to stop the run," Gailey said.
"That's something we've got to get back to. Our players
realize we've got to get back to stopping the running game and
it will be another challenge this week."
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)
All content copyright 1998,
AP, KRT, The Abilene Reporter-News
and Reporter OnLine
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