IRVING, Texas – Felix Jones isn’t the kind of back that a coach can plan to give the ball 25 times per game.
But Jones did just fine with 25 touches in Saturday night’s rout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He rushed for 108 yards on 22 carries and added 23 yards on three receptions.
It’s the second consecutive 100-yard game for Jones, who had cracked triple digits only twice in his career before the last two weeks. While Jones is best suited to be a complementary back, he has thrived since DeMarco Murray fractured his ankle, leaving Jones as the only healthy true tailback on the roster.
“Ideally we don’t want to overload him,” Jason Garrett said, “but we recognize that situation with our tailback situation.”
The concern isn’t necessarily whether Jones can handle 25 touches in one game. It’s whether that type of workload will have a negative effect down the road, as the Cowboys fight to get into the tournament and try to make a playoff run.
Can Jones remain fresh if he keeps carrying the load like that? Garrett doesn’t intend to find out, but he also can’t let that concern alter his play-calling.
The Cowboys jumped out to a big early lead against the Bucs, which resulted in wanting to ride the running game to milk the clock. As a result, Jones matched his career high with 22 carries and fresh-off-the-couch 12-year veteran Sammy Morris carried 12 times for 53 yards.
“What’s the ideal number?” Garrett said, repeating a question he’s often asked about Jones’ touches. “You have to play the game, and I thought that was the right thing for our football team to do and each of those guys handled that situation well.”
Jones has had 25 touches in a game only once in his four-year career. That occurred when he had 22 carries for 83 yards and three catches for 8 yards in last year’s overtime win over the Colts.
Coincidentally, the Cowboys played the Eagles the next week. He struggled in the running game during a 30-27 loss, gaining 41 yards on 13 carries, but added 42 yards on four catches.
Jones followed that up finishing the season with his best three-game stretch of the year. He rushed for 228 yards on 39 carries – averaging 5.8 yards per carry with a medium-sized workload -- as the Cowboys went 2-1 down the stretch.
The Cowboys need Jones to finish strong again, likely with a little heavier workload.