ARLINGTON, TX – The Cowboys think Joe Randle has a knack for the “dirty run.” He attempted one of those, sort of, as he darted from the locker room Saturday night before we caught up with him to talk about the Randle-McFadden competition.
It is a silly mistake to use raw numbers to attempt to establish that Darren McFadden was “better’’ than Joe Randle in Saturday’s 28-14 preseason loss to Minnesota at AT&T Stadium. McFadden looked explosive in rushing for 37 yards on four carries against the Vikings, averaging 9.3 yards. A highlight: a “flashy” 15-yard run that demonstrated that burst that made the Arkansas product the fourth overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.
Randle? He worked with the first team ahead of McFadden and while he recorded only 15 yards on six carries, he had a nifty reception that contributed to the offense. A highlight (of a different sort): On second-and-2, he carved out a five-yard gain. That’s a “dirty’’ run. It’s as important as McFadden’s “flashy’’ run. To the coaching staff (if not to everyone observing), one result is not necessarily superior to the other.
Nevertheless, guess which running back contended with more media questions in the postgame locker room? “I felt like we were able to get the running game going,” said McFadden, who served as the second-teamer here. “We established something tonight. For a running back, once you get in the groove, it’s hard to get out of it. Once you’re getting carries, you get the groove.”
But what if you have three RBs all desirous of that groove?
I get every indication that Dallas’ post-DeMarco plan is coming together largely as the club envisioned: Running back by committee, with Randle as the chairman of that committee and with McFadden as the No. 2 guy behind starter Randle … and in a sense, the No. 2 guy behind Lance Dunbar in some sub packages. And along with that, McFadden has some packaged plays of his own that will result in him working with the first team situationally.
All this doesn’t have the same dramatic flair as a headline that suggests it’s “do-or-die’’ for one of these guys. Nor does it have the dramatic flair of an insistence that there is something missing from this performance that suggests Dallas should request a do-over and give DeMarco his $9 mil a year (nearly twice what the Cowboys wanted to pay the now-Eagle to stay).
But it’s the coaching staff’s truth.
“Man, all we as players are going to do is to keep grinding,” Randle told me as we walked through the basement of AT&T Stadium. “And then we let the coaches do their job. … and we keep doing our job, which is to run the football.”
And actually, the “job’’ is more expansive than that. Position coach Gary Brown reminds these guys all the time that their “identity’’ is also crafted by what they do when they don’t have the ball in their hands. So it’s not just about “meat on the bone” or “flash’’ or the Fantasy Football world’s desire to see one guy rush for 1,900 yards. Ultimately, you want your team to be a top-10 rushing group…and 1,900 as a group gets you there.
Is Randle “better’’ than McFadden? Or is it the other way around? Or, if each guy is given snaps while being put in position to succeed, does it matter?
The McFadden issue is not about talent. It’s about health. McFadden, 28, has missed 29 games with 15 different injuries, although last year he played all 16 games for Oakland. The Randle issue is not about talent (though his pedigree as a fifth-rounder doesn’t match McFadden’s). It’s about professionalism. When Randle’s gotten the chance, he’s produced; he has 507 career rushing yards on just 105 carries. But those carries have been limited by both DeMarco’s presence and by Randle’s own knuckleheadedness.
RBBC has worked for the Cowboys in the past. DeMarco was once part of a committee. Marion Barber once made a Pro Bowl as part of one. And last year, the Patriots won a Super Bowl not by using three RBs to get through 16 games, as is Dallas’ present plan (barring, of course, the blockbuster trade so many fans dream of)…but by using six. That’s right: New England last season had six different leading rushers — six different “stars of the game’’ over the course of the year.
“You don’t need every (carry),’’ McFadden said. “When it’s time to play, you have to just be ready.’’
Flashy is good. Dirty is good. Ready is best.