What Could Have Been: Christine Michael as a Dallas Cowboy

By Daniel Houston


You might wonder what a Cowboys fan is doing posting on this very t*steful platform. For that matter, you might wonder why a Cowboys fan has spent untold hours in the past year posting in the mentions of Seahawks Twitter.

Neither of those questions can be answered adequately here.

No, this post is about a very special football player. A running back with off-the-charts athleticism. A prodigal Seahawk who became a Dallas Cowboy in 2015. A man who Did Nothing Wrong.

This is the story of how Christine Michael came this close to becoming a 1,000-yard rusher.


A chance at last

For a running back that had fallen on hard times, the 2015 Cowboys would have likely been a dream destination. Dallas was a great environment for a running back to come into and thrive. DeMarco Murray had just won the rushing title behind an offensive line featuring three All Pros and a system that prioritized establishing the run. On first or second down when the game was within reach for both teams, the 2014 Cowboys ran the ball nearly 57% of the time. This was the highest rate in the league, and amounted to more than 9 percentage points higher than the Seahawks’ rush rate in the same situations.

But there was also a great deal of opportunity for a talented running back to come in and make a difference. The Cowboys didn’t re-sign Murray after his 1,845-yard season, opting instead to bet on a three-player running back stable of Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar.

Heading into the season, Randle was penciled in as the starter. But he played only six games before an injury and a rumored suspension ended his season. McFadden was a seven-year vet, and at this point was viewed as little more than a replacement-level back who struggled to find any traction in his final seasons in Oakland. Dunbar fought injuries and only touched the ball a couple dozen times the whole year.

This was a golden opportunity for a running back to come in from outside the organization and make a name for himself at last. 

On Sept. 6, 2015, the Seattle Seahawks traded Christine Michael to the Dallas Cowboys.


End of an era

On Nov. 17, 2015, the Dallas Cowboys released Christine Michael, signing his former Seahawks teammate Robert Turbin a day later. 


Did C-Mike do something wrong? An examination

Michael’s first carry couldn’t have come in a much bigger situation. 

Down by a touchdown to the Saints with less than seven minutes to go in the game, the Cowboys faced an enormous third down. Needing only one yard to convert, they turned to Michael.

He never stood a chance.

Tell me, and be truthful: Could you in good conscience, with a candid world as your witness, say C-Mike did anything wrong on this play?

This was the worst play of Michael’s career in Dallas. Still, that didn’t stop rumors from swirling that the coaching staff was eyeing Michael as the potential starter. 

But as soon as the Cowboys expanded Michael’s role a bit, his blocking failed him again in a high-leverage situation.

Trailing a division opponent by 7 points, the Cowboys had 1st and 10 at the Giants’ 32 yard line. Michael was stopped for a 2 yard gain — a significant setback considering the importance of the down. The drive later ended with a failed completion on 4th and 8.

Watch closely, and tell me what Michael did wrong:


Verdict 

It’s well established that C-Mike did nothing wrong as a Seahawk.

I did my best to add to this body of evidence by reviewing news reports, statistics and individual plays from his stint as a Cowboy. 

Michael finished with 18 plays in which he was a runner or a pass target in Dallas. The team lost 21 percentage points of win probability on these plays, according to nflscrapR’s model.

Did poor team results in big moments scare the Cowboys off from giving Michael a real chance at the starting job? I don’t know.

Were those results the fault of the running back, or indicative of what the Cowboys would have gotten from him as a starter? I doubt it.

But this much is clear to me: The Cowboys took a replacement-level running back in McFadden and gave him enough opportunities to turn him into a 1,000 yard rusher. Had Michael been given the same opportunity, he would have had a decent shot to pull off the same feat.

He never got that chance.

As a Dallas Cowboy, C-Mike did nothing wrong.