IRVING, Texas (AP) — The Cowboys should have quarterback Tony Romo back on Sunday in Miami as they try to end a seven-game slide.
What they could really use is a powerful running game.
The run-by-committee approach that Dallas used early this season has evolved into veteran Darren McFadden as the featured back.
Gone are James Randle and Lance Dunbar, the team’s leading rushers in each of the first five games. McFadden’s understudies on Sunday have a combined total of two career NFL rushing carries.
McFadden, signed to a two-year, $3 million contract after DeMarco Murray left for Philadelphia, said his approach hasn’t changed as he’s become the mainstay.
"Guys come and go sometimes," said McFadden, 28, drafted by Oakland fourth overall in 2008. "For me, I’m just going to continue to prepare the same I’ve been doing. Just go out there grinding hard and work every day."
The Cowboys rushed for only 42 yards on 17 carries in their 10-6 loss at Tampa Bay last Sunday with McFadden gaining 32. That was Dallas’ lowest rushing total since gaining only 36 yards on Nov. 3, 2013, when Romo passed 51 times for 337 yards in a 27-23 win over Minnesota.
Last season, Murray led the league in rushing with a franchise-record 1,845 yards for a team that averaged 147.1 rushing yards per game. Even with McFadden rushing for 100-plus yards twice since becoming the primary back four games ago, the average has dropped to 119.0.
The Cowboys are tied for 30th in the league in points scored after ranking fifth last season, when they finished 12-4 and won the NFC East for the first time in five seasons.
Dallas has gone from a 2-0 start to 2-7, the team’s longest skid since 1989, after Romo suffered a broken left collarbone in the second game of the year. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said the team is working on a "bread-and-butter offense" with Romo returning after eight weeks out, but he expects the 10th-year starter to help all facets of the offense.
"We get back to the basics of what we want to get done offensively and have that balance and effectiveness and situational football," Linehan said. "Tony gives us a great chance of doing that."
Randle began the season as the lead member of the running back committee but suffered an oblique strain on Oct. 25 and, in the wake of off-field issues, was cut on Nov. 4. Dunbar was gone before that. He suffered a knee injury at New Orleans on Oct. 4 and was lost for the season. Christine Michael, acquired from Seattle before the season began, got a handful of carries and was cut Tuesday.
McFadden has been the lead back for the past four games, averaging 91.2 rushing yards. In his seven seasons in Oakland, he never played in all 16 regular-season games. He’s on pace to exceed his career high of 223 carries, set five years ago. He was limited in practice Thursday by a groin injury but is expected to play against the Dolphins.
McFadden’s backups figure to be Rod Smith and Trey Williams, a pair of undrafted rookies acquired in recent weeks.
"It hurts to see what happened," Smith said of the release of Michael, a teammate of his in both Seattle and Dallas. "You’ve just got to keep your focus on what you can do and what you can control."
After Michael’s release, Dallas signed Robert Turbin, a fourth-year player who has been with Seattle and Cleveland previously this season. Linehan said he has been impressed with Turbin already in two practices and didn’t discount the possibility of Turbin being activated this Sunday.
Center Travis Frederick said it makes no difference to the offensive line whether they’re blocking mostly for one, workhorse runner or for multiple backs.
"Our running backs are all taught to take the same tracks and same courses until they get to the line of scrimmage," Frederick said. "At that point, then they can be themselves and use their style."