When the Dallas Cowboys began to feed running back DeMarco Murray the football in the first half, it appeared that maybe the running game wasn't going to be a key to winning the game. The New York Giants were simply not being pushed back by the Cowboys' offensive line.
Instead of opening up holes for Murray, the line was repeatedly ineffective against the New York defensive line. Linval Joseph is one of my breakout players for 2012. Despite his size, he is a player that manages to play with good leverage. Linval Joseph, Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and the rest of the defensive line played disruptive football for the first 30 minutes of the game.
With Phil Costa having his back tighten up after just three snaps, the Cowboys were forced to go with newly acquired offensive lineman Ryan Cook.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, the offensive line came together in the second half, but DeMarco Murray showed us that he is the same workhorse running back that we saw during his rookie season.
Murray just couldn't get anything started in the first half of the game. He carried the football eight times for 20 yards, averaging just 2.5 yards per carry. In the second half of the game, the Cowboys' offensive line began to wear down the defense. With the line elevating their game, Murray rushed for the ball 12 times for 111 yards, averaging an amazing 9.3 yards per carry.
Jason Garrett clearly entered this game with a plan, but he altered it according to what the defense was giving him. Once he saw that his running game wasn't working, he let his quarterback go to work. Tony Romo led a late scoring drive before the end of the second quarter and put the Cowboys ahead 7-3.
When the Cowboys had the lead, they never looked back and began to feed DeMarco Murray the ball. I found the stats listed below to be pretty interesting.
- Third quarter: five carries, 67 yards, 13.4 yards per carry
- Forth quarter: seven carries, 44 yards, 6.3 yards per carry
- First down attempts: 12 carries, 47 yards, 3.9 yards per carry
- Second down attempts: 6 carries, 78 yards, 13 yards per carry
- After Murray's 11th attempt: 10 carries, 100 yards, 10 yards per carry
I guess the stats really don't lie. With Murray finally becoming a factor in the game, the Dallas offense began to click. With the success of running the ball on first and second down, it allowed Jason Garrett to open his playbook. Garrett used the pass to get the lead, but he used the running game to seal the win in New York.
It's crazy, but there were five running backs taken ahead of Murray in the 2011 NFL Draft. NBC announcer Cris Collinsworth mentioned during his broadcast that he was surprised a guy like Murray was still available in the third round. Jason Garrett was also was amazed to why teams passed on the standout running back from Oklahoma.
A healthy Murray is providing the Cowboys the type of runner they hoped for when they selected him in the third round last year. At the time, Garrett didn’t understand why Murray fell down the draft charts, allowing the Cowboys to scoop up the dynamic backfield threat.
"We were all looking at each other in the draft room saying, ‘Are we missing on something with this guy?’" Garrett said. "Everybody kept saying, ‘Well, he has an injury history.’ I’m like, ‘What’s the injury history?’ ‘Well, he missed six games. But he also had 80 touchdowns and he caught all these passes.’"
Garrett said the Cowboys have gotten the same runner Murray was at Oklahoma and even more. He turns 4-yard gains into 6-yard gains, and 8-yard gains into first downs.
Jerry Jones has a close relationship with Barry Switzer, who is still close to the Oklahoma program. Switzer gave the Cowboys' front office a good recommendation and the rest is history. Many were upset with the Murray pick, but he looks like he may be the best running back drafted in the 2011 NFL Draft.
In the season opener, Murray possibly may have had one of the most memorable runs of the 2012 season. His 48-yard rumble in the third quarter was the type of play that puts on display the type of athleticism and power Murray possesses.
Jason Garrett offered some insight into the way the Cowboys coach their running backs, which I found to be very interesting.
"We never tell our runners where to run," Garrett said. "We think the runners that we have are very natural. We explain what the run is to them, and where we think the design of the play should go. So you never want to question (spontaneous decisions). You want to let them use their instincts."
Even though the Cowboys only scored a field goal on that drive, that 48-yard run was the type of play that demoralizes a defense. Jerry Jones agrees that the amazing run took a lot out of the New York Giants, tilting the momentum back to the Cowboys.
"He makes a lot of contact with that head," Jones said on 105.3 [KRLD-FM] The Fan’s Elf and Slater show. "It just shows how physical he is, especially at the end of his runs. I’m going to tell you, that’s demoralizing for a defense to get a back that’s going to give more to you than you give to him on the end of a run. I think that paid off."
The key of the offense is always going to be Tony Romo because it all starts with the quarterback. The problem for the Cowboys is they cannot expect Romo to play that good every game. They need the running game to play an important role in winning games, which it did on Wednesday night.
Murray can be a workhorse running back, but someone needs to step up behind him and spell him for a breather occasionally. Right now, you can't expect too much from Felix Jones because he just does not look like the same player. Phillip Tanner may possibly see more action going forward, but like Jones, he didn't see any carries against New York.
The offense looks like it will be even more dangerous than it was last season. With Romo and Murray off to great starts, you can't help but feel overly confident about the Dallas Cowboys as a playoff contender. A good running game will enhance the Cowboys' offense, and it looks like we have one of the best running backs in the league with DeMarco Murray.