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Running attack grounds Cowboys

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys are identified by a few definitive themes as the seventh week of the NFL season approaches.

One of them is the anemic running attack.

When the team let Marion Barber go after the lockout, the objective was to make Felix Jones into the every-down back with backups DeMarco Murray and Tashard Choice getting snaps as well.

The results have been minimal.

The Cowboys haven't run effectively for a variety of reasons. You can say it's because the offensive line is incorporating three new starters -- including two rookies. Or that when the line plays it's not as physical as the previous one, which had veterans Andre Gurode, Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo on it.

You might take note of the running backs themselves and try to figure out why they haven't hit the holes on a consistent basis, or if the play calling needs more creativity. Then again, you could ask yourself if the running backs or the offensive line are any good.

"Well certainly, you want veteran players who have started and have been Pro Bowl-caliber players at all positions," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "That's unrealistic in the National Football League, and we made some decisions on the offensive line we think were good ones for our football team right now and for our team going forward.

"There's growing pains when you play young players regardless of when they've been drafted or where they came from, and I think our team has responded well up front to the different challenges they've had up to this point."

For the record, the Cowboys rank 29th in yards per carry at 4.24 and 27th in yards per game at 84.8. The Cowboys are one of just three NFL teams with one or no rushing touchdowns. The St. Louis Rams, whom the Cowboys play Sunday at Cowboys Stadium, have one. The Kansas City Chiefs have none.

Jones leads the team with 255 yards, 25th in the league. He's also rushed for just eight first downs, tied for 40th.

The expectations for this unit are higher than this.

Compounding matters is Jones' left high-ankle sprain, which will knock him out two to four weeks. Murray and Choice are possible replacements along with rookie Phillip Tanner, who earned a spot on the 53-man roster with an impressive training camp.

The offensive line has an identity problem. Gone are the big, beefy players in Gurode, Davis and Colombo. In are athletic players such as Phil Costa, rookie Bill Nagy and tackle Tyron Smith to match up with veterans Kyle Kosier and Doug Free.

But Nagy is out for the season with a broken ankle. Kosier, the glue to the line, is battling a foot injury that limits his practice time.

The Cowboys want to employ a balanced running attack. They seek power and finesse. But it doesn't seem as if they can do both with the line and running backs they have.

"I think you need to be each of those things, to be honest with you," Garrett said.

"You certainly need to be a power running game when the power running game is required. But at the same time, you want to play to the strengths of your players. We have guys who are active and athletic. That lends towards being more of a zone running team, but I think if you look at any running team in the NFL, everybody has a combination of those things."

Fixing the running game has been a season-long project. Garrett is right to say issues will exist when you have young players. Yet at this stage of the season, one would think things would be better.

The Rams, ranked 30th in rushing defense, could offer a solution to these problems.

Murray and Choice will get the bulk of the carries on Sunday afternoon as the Cowboys try to maintain not only a balanced offense, but a power and finesse running game too.

Murray said he's ready for his turn helping the run game, which needs it with Jones out.

"Hopefully, Felix makes a full recovery," Murray said. "You hope no one gets hurt [and] I'm sure he'll be back in no time, but you have to step up to the plate when the opportunity presents itself. I'm going to go in there and work hard and fight."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.