Without Joseph Randle, Cowboys need Darren McFadden to grind

IRVING, Texas -- To Darren McFadden, the Dallas Cowboys' decision to release Joseph Randle does not change anything.

“For me, I’m going to keep preparing the way that I’ve been preparing all year and going out there and grinding,” McFadden said.

But really it changes everything.

The Cowboys made McFadden the starter after his 152-yard effort against the New York Giants, but the thinking was they had Randle as a backup plan until a confluence of personal and professional events led to Randle being excused from the team last week and released from the team on Tuesday.

So now McFadden has the chance to be the every-down running back after he was unable to hold it down for most of his time with the Oakland Raiders because of health. He missed games with toe, knee, hamstring, foot and ankle injuries.

His best season came in 2010 when he had 223 carries for 1,157 yards. He topped the 200-carry barrier just one other time (216 for 707 yards in 2012) and had more than 150 carries just one time beyond that (155 last year for 534 yards).

This season, McFadden has 86 carries for 345 yards and two touchdowns, but in his two starts as Randle’s replacement, he has 49 carries for 216 yards.

He said he has just normal soreness and is injury-free.

“To me, I go out there and grind,” McFadden said “That’s something that I do. Being able to get those carries and just come back the next week and do it again, I’m very thankful for it.”

The 49 combined carries in consecutive weeks are the most he has had since his 55 in Weeks 2-3 in 2010. Only four other times has he had 40 or more carries in consecutive games. The most carries he has had in a three-game span came in 2012 when he had 75 in Weeks 6-8.

In the first five games of the season he never had more than 10 carries and never gained more than 35 yards. On 20 carries in last week’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks, he had 64 tough yards.

With a reputation as a speed back, McFadden’s work in picking up the dirty yards has impressed coach Jason Garrett.

“I think we saw a lot of that in the Giants game,” Garrett said. “He made some big runs in the Giants game, but if you watch him at the end of those runs, the big runs he was finishing forward and then he made a number of dirty runs last week. A short-yardage run that was a big play for us where he pushed the pile and a number of other runs where it’s not always clean, but if you finish the run the right way and you make a 2-yard run into a 4-yard run and a 4-yard run into a 6-yard run and so on. He’s done a lot of that the last couple of weeks.

"There were more opportunities for those kinds of runs [vs. Seattle]. It’s a tough defense. It’s a good front seven. They are oriented to stopping the run with their group up front, and I thought he did a good job handling himself and really in a lot of ways helping us control the football by running the football, a lot of consecutive runs in the game, a lot of first downs made running the football, and he was a big part of that.”

Last year DeMarco Murray had 20 or more carries in 13 of the Cowboys’ 16 games. In the three games he didn’t reach 20 carries, he had 19 attempts.

As the Cowboys look to keep pressure off quarterback Matt Cassel, they have reverted to their run-first mentality that worked well in 2014.

Like McFadden, Murray had injury questions entering his final season with the Cowboys but played every game, even with a broken wrist. McFadden said he believes he gets better with the more carries he gets, like most running backs feel. He is averaging 4.1 yards per carry in the second half and 3.8 in the first half.

It has taken some time to get up to speed, but McFadden knows more of what’s being asked of him and more of how the offensive line will react.

“I have so much confidence in those guys, so I’m comfortable back there running behind those guys,” McFadden said. “I know that they’re going to come off on their blocks and do their job. So just go out there and hit it.”