Romo must ensure Cowboys run

IRVING, Texas -- Head coach Jason Garrett has said all of the right things -- publicly and privately -- about being more committed to running the ball this season. So has playcaller Scott Linehan. Garrett and Linehan talk about establishing a physical style with an offensive line fortified with three first-round picks in the past four years. They talk about the tantalizing skill sets of running backs DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar.

Like me, you've heard Garrett essentially talk about running the ball and being physical on offense each offseason since he arrived in 2007 and started calling plays.

It never happens.

Actually, the Cowboys' percentage of rushing plays has decreased each of the past five seasons, from 42.7 in 2009 -- they won the NFC East -- to 35.1 in 2013. Only Miami, Cleveland and Atlanta ran it fewer than the Cowboys this past season.

And it's not going to change this season, no matter what Garrett and Linehan want, if quarterback Tony Romo doesn't want it to change.

Think about it. Like most quarterbacks these days, Romo goes to the line of scrimmage with multiple play options. He picks the final play based on the defense.

"I think what you find is a misconception sometimes that quarterbacks just want to throw," Romo said during training camp. "It's far easier to win when you run the ball well. If we can run the ball -- and I envision us being able to do that -- it's going to take a lot off a lot of different areas in the football team. I think that's a huge thing, and what we're trying to do is create the environment where we can rely on that in the situations we want to."

In many ways, running the ball is about trust. Romo knows he can get the job done.

Does he trust his offensive line to create a hole? Does he trust the runner to get through it? Does he trust the tight ends and receivers to make their blocks?

Last year, Romo didn't trust the running game, no matter how many yards Murray gained. Neither did the coaches. Not really.

It's the reason they often threw the ball against seven-man defensive fronts when they should've run it. This year is supposed to be different.

We'll see.

Romo insists each game is different, so it's pointless to attach a certain number of runs or passes to a game plan. Romo will say the Cowboys want a physical offense, but they must be prepared to take what the defense gives them.

The best offenses take what they want. No one is saying the Cowboys have to run it more than 50 percent of the time like San Francisco and Seattle did the past season.

They just need to run it enough to make the play-action passes Linehan wants to use more effective. They need to run it to protect the defense, which is expected to rank near the bottom of the league, and to protect Romo from himself.

Sometimes, the Cowboys will need to run the ball into an eight- or nine-man man front. Occasionally, time trumps yardage.

We all remember the Cowboys' 37-36 loss to Green Bay the past season when the Cowboys blew a 26-3 halftime lead, in part because the play selection was poor.

The Cowboys led 29-10 with 6:33 left in the third quarter. Murray carried three more times the rest of the game.

"We always talk about the one or two times where it obviously went negative," Romo said. "But over the course of your career, for every one, there were nine that were very successful that we just don't talk about. You guys don't know we checked them, and they produced a first down to win the game. It's not necessarily going from run to pass. It can be run to run, pass to pass and pass to run."

Sure, the Cowboys beat Minnesota 27-23, despite throwing on 51 of 63 plays, but everyone knows that's not a winning formula on a regular basis. The Cowboys have made the playoffs just twice in Garrett's six seasons with the club, including the past three years and eight games as head coach. Dallas has never run the ball more than 43 percent of the time.

Their running percentage has decreased each of the past five years. That's a trend that needs to stop this season.

Ultimately, it's up to Romo to make sure it happens.