It was a big week for Cowboys running back Rico Dowdle, who had the best game of his injury-marred career in the blowout win over the Giants, posting 12 carries and 79 yards, plus a touchdown. More seemed on the way in Week 11 against the 1-8 Carolina Panthers, especially if Dallas could establish an early lead and look to pound the run game.
Alas, there is a fly in the Dowdle ointment. On Saturday, he was downgraded by the Cowboys to questionable with an ankle injury.
As Quarter4 noted at Heavy on Cowboys: “Rico Dowdle appears to have picked up an ankle injury during Saturday’s walk-through practice. His status for Week 11 now may not be revealed until 90 minutes ahead of Sunday’s 1:00 p.m. ET kickoff.”
Bad news on the Dowdle injury is potentially good news for No. 3 running back Deuce Vaughn, who gave a stiff fight for the backup role in training camp. Vaughn, a sixth-round pick out of Kansas State this year, has gotten just 21 carries for 38 yards this season.
Fans, Media Calling for More Rico Dowdle
The Rico Dowdle news comes just as Cowboys fans and media have been calling on coach Mike McCarthy to give Dowdle a bigger role amid the struggles of starting back Tony Pollard. Struggles might not exactly be a fair characterization, but Pollard has just 529 yards through nine games this season, on 135 carries. That amounts to a career-low average of 3.9 yards per carry.
Meanwhile, Dowdle drew praise this week from team owner and general manager Jerry Jones, who told 105.3 The Fan in Dallas this week: “He’s a violent runner. He runs with great skill. … I’m so proud for him. He’s finally put together the running back he can be. He’s outstanding. It just really gives us a 1-2 punch in there.”
Back in training camp, McCarthy praised Dowdle for running, “angry,” a phrase he repeated after his Week 10 showing.
“He runs so damn angry it’s beautiful,” McCarthy said.
Injuries Have Dominated Dowdle’s Career Thus Far
In four seasons, we have not seen a whole lot of Rico Dowdle for the Cowboys and the fact that he has hung on around the team for as long as he has is a credit to how highly the team thinks of him.
Dowdle was an undrafted free agent out of South Carolina in 2020, and stuck on the roster as a rookie, playing special teams and tallying seven rushing attempts as the third-stringer behind Ezekiel Elliott and Pollard.
A hip injury torpedoed his 2021 season, though, and an ankle injury limited him to five games last season. This year, with Elliott gone, Dowdle made minor relief appearances for Pollard, but had just 35 carries on the year for 133 yards, before Week 10’s breakout showing.
In the preseason, it appeared Dowdle would, in fact, be in line for more work this year after he was impressive in training camp. He carried the ball 14 times for 59 yards in the Cowboys’ preseason games, a healthy average of 4.7 yards per carry.
Dowdle has outperformed Pollard in Pro Football Focus’ grading system, with a grade through Week 10 of 74.4, 14th among 60 NFL running backs. Pollard has a grade of 66.4, 41st in the league.
The SB Nation site Blogging the Boys might have summed up Cowboys fans’ feelings on the matter this week when the site’s Tony Catalina wrote:
“The Cowboys would be wise to continue to incorporate Dowdle into the game plan more as the season grows, as there is no negative to be had with the plan. … The masses are ready for more Rico Dowdle.”