Commentary

Owner: Barber better at end of games?

Updated: December 11, 2009, 3:11 PM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- Dallas enters the last four weeks of its season needing the running game.

Overall, the Cowboys have the eighth best running game in the league.

But last week, in a loss at the New York Giants, the Cowboys rushed for a season-low 45 yards on 23 carries.

The Giants snuck a safety to the line of scrimmage to offset the run attack.

It made the Cowboys one-dimensional and forced quarterback Tony Romo to throw a career-high 55 times.

Although the offense produced nice passing stats, the run game suffered.

That has to change in the next four weeks, and it begins with the starter and closer, Marion Barber.

Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones wants Barber to become a dominant force, especially in the fourth quarter. A fresh Barber punishes tired opposing defenders.

In Barber's Pro Bowl year, 2007, he rushed 204 times for 975 yards and 10 touchdowns. In the fourth quarter, Barber led NFL running backs with 79 carries for 409 yards and three touchdowns.

Dallas needs that again from Barber.

"I think the real question is, should he be finishing rather than beginning?" Jones said in an interview on KRLD on Thursday. "In his Pro Bowl year, where he had his best year is finishing the game. If you recall, Julius Jones started the game. We injected the quickness of his speed there early. That would be the issue."

Barber should remain the starter, but backup running backs Felix Jones and Tashard Choice need more carries.

As it stands now, Choice is the third-down back and the lead runner out of the razorback formation.

Jones' speed should be used more on third downs, when he can catch passes and take them up field for big gains.

Against Seattle, on Nov. 1, Jones took a short reception and turned it into a 30-yard run. Against Oakland, on Thanksgiving Day, Jones scored on a 46-yard run.

The problem with Jones is durability. He's been nicked up in his first two seasons with toe, hamstring and knee injuries. It might explain why the Cowboys have let him carry 10 times in a game only once.

He appears healthy now and has shown a burst.

Meanwhile, Choice has proved, so far, that he can take the pounding.

Last season in Pittsburgh, Choice started in place of an injured Barber and Jones. Choice rushed 23 times for 88 yards and recorded five catches for 78 yards against one of the better defenses in the league.

This year, Choice hasn't gotten a start, but with Barber out with a thigh injury, he gained 82 yards on 18 carries with one touchdown when Jones was taken out after hurting his knee. In the overtime victory at Kansas City, Choice responded in a backup role with 92 yards on eight carries and a touchdown.

Is it time to start Choice or Jones over Barber and let Barber become the workhorse in the fourth quarter?

"I don't need to go there," Jerry Jones said. "I think the situation dictates a lot of this. I think any of those three backs can make a play."

Coach Wade Phillips is confident that Barber can still be a strong force in the run game but isn't willing to switch the current arrangement, either.

"He's able to carry the load," Phillips said. "We want the power guy early in the game to start out to physically attack the other team, I think, and you want the same thing at the end of the game. Plus, he's our best player. He's our best back. You want your best player out there to start the game and finish it."

That's fine, but how you get there should change.

Calvin Watkins covers the Dallas Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. Drop him a line on his weekly mailbag.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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