The Cowboys Miss Marion Barber

Based on a search I ran on Pro-Football-Reference, the Cowboys have a combined record of 223-11 in games where they led by at least 10 points in the fourth quarter. Here is my Facebook post about this search:

Between 2005 and 2010, the Cowboys could and often would turn to running back Marion Barber, who had a knack for making key first downs and allowing the Cowboys to run out the clock.

The Cowboys lost two games during that span in which the team led by as many as 10 points in the fourth quarter—a 14-13 loss to the Redskins in 2005 and a 20-13 loss to the Steelers in 2008. Barber did not play in either game, as he was not yet part of the offense in 2005 and was injured in the 2008 game.

The Cowboys struggles against the Steelers in 2008 were similar to those in recent years. Dallas had a 13-3 fourth-quarter lead and attempted to kill the clock. However, the team could only turn to Tashard Choice, who struggled to run the ball. Once the Steelers tied the game at 13, the Cowboys had to rely on Tony Romo to move the team into field goal range.

Romo instead threw an interception returned for a touchdown. The Cowboys did not recover.

Without Barber since 2011, the Cowboys seldom rely on their running game to close out games. DeMarco Murray is not the same type of runner that Barber was, and the Cowboys apparently do not trust him to run the ball unless the defense lines up without their safeties in the box. That apparently explains why Dallas was throwing so much in their loss to the Packers.

The defensive alignment never seemed to matter when the Cowboys had Barber, who found ways to make first downs even when everyone in the stadium knew he would get the ball.

In an old post, I wrote a summary of Barber’s best games as of the end of 2009. Here is that list:

Oct. 30, 2005: Dallas 34, Arizona 13

Filling in for an injured Julius Jones, Barber carried the ball 27 times for 127 yards in a 34-13 win over Arizona. With the Cowboys leading by at least two touchdowns, Barber touched the ball 14 times in the fourth quarter.

Oct. 29, 2006: Dallas 35, Carolina 14

The Cowboys had a 21-14 lead in the fourth quarter when safety Roy Williams picked off a pass in Carolina territory. The Cowboys alternated between Barber and Julius Jones, but it was Barber who found the end zone twice in the final three minutes to put the game away for Dallas.

Nov. 12, 2006: Dallas 38, Arizona 10

Dallas dominated the Cardinals in Arizona, taking a 20-3 lead late in the third quarter. In the final 17 minutes of the game, Barber touched the ball 10 times and scored a short run to increase the lead to 27-3 early in the fourth quarter.

Nov. 23, 2006: Dallas 38, Tampa Bay 10

In another blowout, Dallas held a 35-10 lead in the third quarter. In the final 18:36, Barber ran the ball 11 times and helped to set up the final field goal.

Dec. 16, 2006: Dallas 38, Atlanta 28

The Cowboys had a narrow 31-28 lead at Atlanta when the Falcons punted with 8:58 remaining. Barber took over from there, catching one pass early in the drive and then running six consecutive times. The sixth rush was a three-yard touchdown, securing the Dallas win.

Sept. 9, 2007: Dallas 45, N.Y. Giants 35

In a wild season opener, Dallas took a 45-35 lead late in the game when Tony Romo hit Sam Hurd on a 51-yard touchdown. The Giants punted the ball back to the Cowboys with 2:08 remaining. From there, Barber ran the ball five straight times, helping Dallas to run out the clock.

Sept. 16, 2007: Dallas 37, Miami 20

The Dolphins would not give up in the second week of the 2007 season. After cutting the lead to 30-20 with 3:26 remaining, the Dolphins tried an onside kick. Dallas recovered, and on the next play, Barber raced 40 yards for the final score of the game.

Sept. 23, 2007: Dallas 34, Chicago 10

In another surprising blowout in 2007, Dallas held a 27-10 lead in the fourth quarter and took the ball over with 8:53 remaining. Barber touched the ball eight consecutive times on a 78-yard drive, which Barber capped off with a one-yard touchdown run.

Oct. 21, 2007: Dallas 24, Minnesota 14

The Cowboys took a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. In the final eight minutes of the game, Barber carried the ball 11 times, putting the game away.

Nov. 11, 2007: Dallas 31, N.Y. Giants 20

With Dallas leading 31-20 in the fourth quarter, Barber touched the ball eight times, helping the Cowboys to a key win at the Meadowlands.

Nov. 22, 2007: Dallas 34, N.Y. Jets 3

In a blowout win, Barber touched the ball 11 times in the final 10:47 to help the Cowboys run out the clock in a Thanksgiving Day win.

Nov. 29, 2007: Dallas 37, Green Bay 27

With the Cowboys holding on to a one-touchdown lead with 5:03 left, the Cowboys turned to Barber. He carried the ball seven times for 26 yards to help set up a field goal that iced the game for Dallas.

Dec. 22, 2007: Dallas 20, Carolina 13

The Cowboys’ held a one-touchdown lead with about three minutes remaining. Needing at least a first down, Barber came through with runs of 9 and 11 yards to help secure the win for Dallas.

Sept. 15, 2008: Dallas 41, Philadelphia 37

Barber did not put the game away against the Eagles in the second week of the 2008 season, but his one-yard touchdown run was the game winner in an early season victory.

Oct. 5, 2008: Dallas 31, Cincinnati 22

With the Cowboys barely holding on to a 24-22 lead with 7:39 remaining, the Cowboys turned to Barber, who gained 20 yards on the team’s final scoring drive that put the Bengals away.

Nov. 16, 2008: Dallas 14, Washington 10

The Cowboys were holding on to a 14-10 lead over the Redskins when the Cowboys stopped a Washington drive in Dallas territory. In his greatest effort as a closer so far, Barber touched the ball 11 straight times. His last run on a fourth-and-one play put the game away for the Cowboys.

Nov. 23, 2008: Dallas 35, San Francisco 22

With the Cowboys having trouble putting the 49ers away, Dallas turned to Barber on two fourth quarter drives. He touched the ball eight times, helping the secure the win.

Sept. 13, 2009: Dallas 34, Tampa Bay 21

The Cowboys had trouble putting the Buccaneers away in the opening game of the 2009 season. On a late scoring drive, highlighted by a 44-yard pass play from Romo to Patrick Crayton, Barber ran the ball four times and scored from six yards out, helping the Cowboys to a win.

Nov. 8, 2009: Dallas 20, Philadelphia 16

The Eagles cut the Dallas led to 20-16 with 4:27 remaining in a key NFC East game on Sunday night. With the Cowboys needing first downs, Dallas gave ball to Barber, who gained 23 yards on three consecutive carries. Since the Eagles were out of timeouts, a third down conversion on a pass from Romo to Jason Witten put the game away.

 

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Green Bay 37, Dallas 36: Excessive Disgrace

Proof that the Cowboys have running plays in their playbook. No NFL rule prohibits a team from running the ball when the team has a 23-point lead. In fact, most experts suggest such a strategy.

Proof that the Cowboys have running plays in their playbook. No NFL rule prohibits a team from running the ball when the team has a 23-point lead. In fact, most experts suggest such a strategy.

The Dallas Cowboys still control their own destiny and will make the playoffs by winning their final two games.

Few teams in league history have be less deserving if the Cowboys do this. We can go through all the four-letter words and longer words and phrases while describing this team, but we’ve said all these words and phrases before.

The short story: the Cowboys sprinted to a 26-3 first-half lead. The Cowboys were running the ball well. The Packers showed no ability to stop the run. So the Cowboys decided to throw.

And throw. And throw. And throw.

The 26-3 lead disappeared. Tony Romo threw two critical interceptions late in the game, and the Packers surged ahead and won the game.

This is the same basic team as the one that took a 27-3 lead over the Detroit Lions on October 2, 2011, only to allow the Lions back into the game by throwing and throwing and throwing.

That’s throwing picks, as in two interceptions of Tony Romo that were returned for touchdowns to allowed the Lions back into the game.

There have been other absolutely pathetic losses during the Garrett tenure, with the loss to the Lions in 2011 being the worst.

Until Sunday.

The Cowboys’ defense in 2013 is much worse than then defense of 2011. The Cowboys needed to hold on to the ball at all costs, because this defense cannot stop anyone. Whether the Green Bay quarterback was Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn, a 79-year-old Bart Starr, a deceased Curly Lambeau, or any two- or four-legged animal, the Cowboys defense cannot stop anyone.

So when Flynn started hitting anyone he wanted, it came as no surprise. When the Cowboys could not stop Eddie Lacy, it came as no surprise. Any positives from the first-half were a distant memory by the beginning of the fourth quarter.

There are so many reasons for this debacle—injuries on defense, general incompetence on defense, play-calling on offense, Romo’s decision-making, Gene Jones’ selection of “Blue Field Explosions” inside AT&T Stadium (some sort of giant wall drawing; I just looked it up)—that nothing can really explain this debacle.

I won’t try.

* * *

The Cowboys could have wrapped up the NFC East by beating the Packers and Redskins and hoping for an Eagles’ loss to Bears. The Bears-Eagles game will matter only if the Cowboys lose to the Redskins. If the Cowboys win, the season finale against the Eagles is for all the marbles.

I’ll watch, even if I am quite sure I don’t want to watch any of this.

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