No team gave up more yards than the Dallas Cowboys last season. Many would point to those defensive struggles as being the biggest reason why they finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year.
But not Emmitt Smith. The Hall of Fame running back and the league’s all-time leading rusher naturally points to his former team’s problems on the ground.
The Falcons were the only team to attempt fewer rushes than the Cowboys last season. Dallas threw 36.6 times per game while averaging only 21 rushing attempts.
Smith says that’s what is holding the Cowboys back.
"I think the Dallas Cowboys are too enamored with the passing game," Smith said during a Tuesday phone interview. "They’re putting too much pressure on our quarterback and not enough balance on the running game to alleviate some of that pressure in the passing game.
"I don’t think they are committed to running the football like they should be. I think if they can get back to that level of being committed to the run game â¦ they’ll see a tremendous difference in terms of the overall team. I think it would build toughness up front the way it needs to be done.
"I think it rewards the offensive linemen with the ability to fire off and hit somebody in the mouth versus sitting there and playing catch the whole time and pass blocking the whole time. I think that in itself just changes the mentality of every football player on that team."
Smith mentioned that the Super Bowl champion Seahawks play the physical brand of football that he’d like to see from his former team.
Seattle rushed the ball 31.8 times per game, second most in the NFL.
"What you saw in the Super Bowl is exactly what I’m talking about right now," Smith said. "You saw a team that was physically tough up front offensively, physically tough up front defensively and they played an aggressive style of defense and they got after it, and they played solid special teams.
"The Seahawks could run the football and they were tough at running the football, and they can pass block, too. â¦ I’ll take physicality over finesse just about any day."
Smith called Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray a "tremendous" back. Murray is coming off a career-high 1,124 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in 14 games. But Smith also pointed to the 26-year-old’s inability to stay healthy. Murray has missed 11 games over the last three seasons.
"I think given the opportunity, he can make things happen for us," Smith said. "But the thing that lingers in my mind and probably in many other peoples’ minds is the fact of whether or not he can maintain health. It is a very physical ballgame so you definitely need to have more than one running back at that position.
"Overall, I think he’s a tremendous running back. He gives us our best chance of running the football effectively. I think with the balance and giving him the opportunities, we can win probably three or four more games. That’s the difference between being 8-8 and 12-4."