ARLINGTON, Texas – How can something be so good and so bad all in the same game?
After his first three carries, Dallas Cowboys running back Joseph Randle had a career-high 85 yards and a touchdown. By the end of the first half he had 10 carries for 92 yards and three rushing touchdowns.
He finished the game with 14 carries for 87 yards, which is still a career high but hardly what could have been.
“It certainly was different,” coach Jason Garrett said of the running game turnaround. “But again, these are pro football players and pro football coaches and they make adjustments. We were able to take advantage of things early on and they kind of locked it down. They put a lot of guys around the line of scrimmage and made it more challenging.”
The Cowboys ran 16 times for 131 yards in the first half, the ninth most by the Cowboys since 1991. Only once last year did they have more rushing yards in a first half (Tennessee 14). They had nine first downs by run in the first quarter.
They had four rushing touchdowns in the first half, led by Randle’s three. He joined Don Perkins (Dec. 1, 1963 vs. the New York Giants) and Ron Springs (Sept. 13, 1981 vs. the St. Louis Cardinals) as the only Cowboys’ runners with three first-half rushing touchdowns.
Well, actually less than nothing.
The Cowboys ran the ball five times for minus-4 yards in the second half.
Randle’s long run in the second half was 2 yards. Darren McFadden’s one second-half carry picked up a yard.
“It’s definitely disappointing,” Randle said, “but we’re going to get back on the drawing board.”
In the season-opening win against the Giants, the Cowboys pinned the lack of running-game success on a lack of opportunities. Of their 10 true possessions, they were in a two-minute offense four times. In their Week 2 win against the Philadelphia Eagles, they pointed to the penalties as a reason why they gained 109 yards on 33 carries.
In the second half Sunday, the Cowboys just ran 19 plays for 52 yards. They had four negative plays, including two sacks. They had two penalties. They had needed to gain 23, 14 and 12 yards on their first three third-down chances, converting once because of an Atlanta penalty. They were sacked on third-and-3 and third-and-1.
“Our running game, just like everything we do on our team is a collaborative effort,” Garrett said. “It starts with the guys up front, the guys blocking on the edges and certainly the runner. So it wasn’t as good as the game wore on. We needed it to be better to stay balanced throughout. That’s when we play our best football.”