During the football season, we have a weekly tradition of watching the Sunday night football game at my house with some relatives who just so happen to be die-hard Steeler fans. They loathe the Cowboys as much as they like their favorite team. What I always find fascinating is discussing/arguing about the results of the earlier games, especially when the Cowboys play. We both can watch the same game and come to totally different conclusion based off the results. “They only looked good because the other team played poorly,” is an argument I hear a lot and it’s almost always followed by “Well, they made the other team look bad.” You get the picture. Depending on your personal bias will reflect on how you feel about a player, team, or game.
How does this relate to Darren McFadden and his performance on Saturday night? Let’s take a look at two of his runs, from both the glass half-full and the half-empty approach.
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The first play that we are going to look we can actually get a pretty good look at by just using one still shot. The knock on Darren McFadden is that he’s not the most powerful runner, but if you get the former first round pick in the open field, he can still make plays. Here is one of McFadden’s earlier runs in the game vs. the Vikings:
As you can see, the hole that McFadden is running through is massive. Every defender is accounted for, except for the safety over the top. McFadden hits his top gear quickly and is now at his best. But as someone who is still not fully convinced he’s the right man for the Cowboys’ backfield, this play doesn’t answer any questions for me. Nearly any running back is going to gain big yardage with a hole this size, but what about when things aren’t blocked like this? The argument against that would be that Dallas often does open lanes the size of freeways for their running backs.
One thing Darren McFadden still has is his speed. And when he’s matched up versus a linebacker or safety in the box, he will almost always opt to use his speed to beat the defender, rather than to punish the defender like DeMarco Murray did. In the Minnesota pre-season game, Dallas ran an inside zone to the left side of the line (where they averaged over six yards per rush in 2014) and guard Ronald Leary was able to get to the second level and make a play on the linebacker. This left McFadden one-on-one with a safety inside the tackle box:
McFadden was able to out-run the angle of the safety and get to the sideline where he picked up additional yardage. Here’s where two can see different things in this play. I see this as a six yard gain by McFadden as he correctly bounced it outside for a few extra yards. Other writers, film watchers, fans, etc. see this as an opportunity to establish your physical dominance on a smaller safety. I’ve shown and asked about this play to multiple intelligent football people and the opinions varied. Some people believed that Dallas was a better team last year because they were more physical and punished defenses. Some think they were better because they just became a better running team. Neither are wrong, but the opinions are different nonetheless.
If you thought McFadden looked good Saturday on the small sample size, your eyes weren’t deceiving you. If you thought that McFadden benefited from massive holes and questionable angles, you were also correct. Time will tell if McFadden will be a success in DAL, but if the offensive line can continue to open up holes the size of your closet interstate, then I expect him to exceed every and all expectations for him this year. But how much can he do if things aren’t blocked perfectly? We will soon find out. I feel like I haven’t learned anything new about Darren McFadden through two pre-season games. Does that make me a doubter? Maybe. But I like to see things over and over before I just assume that he’s back to being the Darren McFadden I remember being worth the fourth overall pick in the draft.