DeMarco Murray again surpassed 100 yards rushing as the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Seattle Seahawks to get back to a .500 record. The victory over the Seahawks was in large part due to DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys ability to successfully run against a defense that led the NFL in fewest yards allowed per rush. The Cowboys dynamic rookie running back now has over 500 yards on 80 carries for a 6.7 yard average. In his two games as a starter Murray has averaged over seven yards a carry and that doesn't even include his 250+ yard performance against the Rams when Felix Jones first went down with an injury.
While the Cowboys running game beat up and gashed the Seahawks defense, something funny happened to the Cowboys offense which hadn't been consistent this season. The performance against Seattle certainly wasn't perfect, but Dallas was forced to punt only four times and scored on five of their ten possessions. One scoring opportunity was lost by Dez Bryant's fumble at the goal line. There were issues in the redzone and the offense battled through a few penalties early, but the Cowboys had only a single three-and-out versus the Seahawks that occurred late in the third quarter.
Tony Romo and the offense were crisp. For the third time this season the offense gained 440+ total yards and for the third time this season Romo did not throw an interception. Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that the 440+ yards and no interceptions occurred during the same three games...and two of those games were the only times the Cowboys rushed for over 150 yards.
Taking a closer look, the game against the Seahawks may provide a glimpse into the future of the Cowboys offense...
Sunday against the Seahawks, Tony Romo accomplished his second highest passer-rating of the season. It was his third best passing average and his fourth best completion percentage. Romo managed to have one of his best games of the year despite the loss of Miles Austin for most of the game.
In fact, it seems the Cowboys will be without Austin for a few weeks and that in and of itself could lead to a shift in Jason Garrett's offensive designs. With the offense running the ball better and the loss of the team's #1 wide receiver, the Cowboys may continue to rely on a more balanced offensive approach than in games and seasons past. But there are more reasons that suggest this as a beneficial move for the Cowboys and Garrett. It may even be what Garrett has hoped for all along.
A Growing Trend
The Dallas Cowboys have surpassed 400 yards of total offense four times during the 2011 season. In those games, the Cowboys are 3-1. The single loss was to the Detroit Lions in a game most fans would agree should have been won by Dallas if not for some devastating turnovers in the second half. Of the three victories, two were the one-sided defeats over the Rams and Seahawks, and the third was the overtime win versus the 49ers.
As explained prior to the jump, Romo's only three games without an interception where included in this group of four games. They were the three victories. The loss to the Lions, as we unfortunately remember, had three Romo interceptions.
In three of those four games, the Cowboys also rushed for over 100 yards. While most would assume the century rushing mark was surpassed in all the victories, it actually isn't so. While clearly the running attack was instrumental in the games versus the Rams and Seahawks (Murray totaling nearly 400 yards in those two matchups), it likely also proved instrumental in the loss to the Lions. Many will remember wondering why the team didn't run more often and why Romo tried to squeeze in difficult throws with the team leading the Lions by over 20 points. In a way, the victories over the Rams and Seahawks were what would have happened against the Lions if the Cowboys had continued to establish the run. They surpassed 100 yards, but did not rely on the run to seal the victory.
The Cowboys are allowing nearly two sacks a game (15 sacks in 8 games), but there were only four sacks allowed in the four games mentioned above. The Seahawks defense had averaged nearly two sacks a game (13 sacks in 7 games) but did not manage a sack against the Cowboys.
Three of the four games include Tony Romo's best passer-ratings of the season. Three of the four games include the fewest passing attempts by Tony Romo. Those same games are the three out of the four wins, with the three interceptions and loss to the Lions being the obvious exception.
Is it me, or is there a growing trend?
The Exception And Nostalgia
The victory against the 49ers is the blatant exception to the trend. While it seems clear the Cowboys could've/should've beat Detroit to make this trend include four victories in four games, it becomes obvious how heroic an effort Tony Romo had in San Francisco when he suffered a fractured rib and punctured lung. Without a running game, Tony Romo carried the offense on his shoulders (and bruised and broken ribs) and had his best passing average, passer-rating, and most passing yards of the season. But his next best performances (highest passer-rating and no interceptions) came in the games when the Cowboys relied on a two-dimensional offense.
The Cowboys young offensive-line did a commendable job opening up running lanes against a tough Seattle defense, especially as lead blockers pulling on runs to edge. When the Cowboys line couldn't open up a hole, Murray had the vision to cut-back against the grain and find an opening. The one-cut runner out of Oklahoma once again displayed the combination of vision, burst, speed, power, and pass-catching ability that will quickly rise him up the ranks of Jason Garrett's running back rotation.
With Austin out and Felix likely to return this week, Jason Garrett suddenly finds more dynamic weapons in his running back rotation than in his receiving core. It would seem wise to rely less on the gunslinger Romo to carry the offense on his shoulders, and instead to trust more in the rushing attack and Romo's smarts and efficiency to carry the Cowboys offense. Better passer-ratings, fewer interceptions, fewer sacks, more total offensive yards...it would seem a prudent choice.
Watching the Cowboys beat the Seahawks I kept having this strange feeling with déjà-vu moments. The Cowboys offense was able to beat up on their opponent with the ground game and then use play-action and accurate passing to complete the domination. Suddenly, the defense was biting on play fakes and having less success pressuring the quarterback who in turn was taking advantage of mismatches in man-coverage as the defense tried to slow down the rushing attack. I suddenly felt like I was watching an offense that Garrett learned from in the film room in his days as a Cowboys player.
Perhaps it revealed a glimpse of some changes coming to the Cowboys offense and Garrett's game-plans. In fact, the one place where the offense seemed weakest (the redzone) was the only place the Cowboys didn't prove successful in the run. Of course, that may have been due to a lack of effort. The Cowboys had two long drives with over 10 plays that failed to score a touchdown. In those two instances, the Cowboys had seven plays from within the Seahawks five yard-line. They ran only twice (not including Romo's scramble).
With the emergence of DeMarco Murray and the continued improvement of the young offensive-line, the Cowboys could/should continue to display an explosive rushing attack. With the injury to Miles Austin and the growing trend of a more successful two-dimensional Cowboys offense with an efficient Tony Romo, the Cowboys should rely on a more balanced offense in the weeks to come.