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Cowboys DeMarco Murray: The Big "What If..."

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DeMarco Murray may be leading the league in rushing, but if he cannot go against the Colts the Cowboys still have options.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

By now you have heard the news about DeMarco Murray and his broken hand. Our editor, Mr. Dave Halprin, touched on the concerns facing the Dallas Cowboys ground game in light of the injuries sustained in the victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night when he gave us a rundown of the latest injury update. We all know that the Valley Ranch Ministry of Misinformation downplays everything, so even the statement that Murray may be available against the Indianapolis Colts should be taken with a grain of salt. In that light, let's take a look at what the Cowboys have as a "Plan B"

First up is the back most suited to filling the every down runner role that DeMarco Murray now mans. Second-year player Joseph Randle is similar to Murray in his style. Currently he is a distant second on the squad with 34 carries for 237 yards; his primary role thus far in his career has been as a "pinch hitter" who gives the feature back an occasional breather. Randle does have a pair of starts on his resume, however; both from last season. Against the Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions Randle carried a total of 33 times for 91 yards.

If Murray cannot answer the bell this coming weekend, Randle will be in a position to audition for the feature back role in 2015. He should be well motivated to show the Cowboys that they can afford to move on from Murray, who is in a contract season. A mantra of Jason Garrett's right kind of guy is one who seizes the moment, and Joseph Randle could be facing that opportunity this weekend. His coach has no doubts that he is capable of filling the role.

"I think the more he's been in this scheme, the more he's been playing at this level, the more confident he's gotten really in every aspect of his game as a special teams player, running down on kicks and making plays there, but also when he goes in on offense. Sometimes, that can be challenging when you've been sitting there, sitting there, sitting there watching somebody else play and now it's your turn. I think we've seen him a number of times this year come in and really make some great runs. He certainly did in Chicago. He made a great run when we played over in London against Jacksonville. So, he seemed to be able to step in there in kind of a pinch hitter role and really handle it well."  - Jason Garrett

Now, if called upon, Randle will have to prove it.

To help him carry the load Randle will be paired with the Cowboys change of pace back. If Murray is not playing, Lance Dunbar should be expected to see more touches than he would with the bell-cow back healthy. Like Randle, Dunbar has gotten some chances thanks to an injury suffered by Murray, in his case it was two seasons ago. Fans will remember the Thanksgiving Day game at home against the Oakland Raiders that was turning into a Lance Dunbar coming out party before being short circuited by his own season-ending injury. To start that contest Dunbar rushed for 82 yards on 12 carries. Since returning, he has served the team in a variety of roles, proving to be a viable alternative weapon for Tony Romo. He may not be the workhorse that Murray is or Randle can be, but given the opportunity, Dunbar can also inflict some damage. He too has Garrett's vote of confidence.

"We have a role for those guys each week. Lance has done a number of different things for us on third down as a receiver, split out. He's just a really good football player. We also have confidence handing him the football. Joseph has been a guy that we've brought into games just to give him the ball and he's done a real nice job with that. I have a lot of confidence in both of those guys."

The biggest challenge this week will be faced by de facto offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and running backs coach Gary Brown. They will have to prepare for two different scenarios, one being that they have a functional DeMarco Murray and another where they design a game plan around the two understudies on the roster. The matchup this weekend is, in its own way, as critical as the one they faced last week. Teams that win must overcome adversity and find a way to prosper. The two coaches will be tasked with finding multiple ways to do just that on Sunday. How well they are able to do their jobs will go a long way toward the Cowboys success or lack there of against the Colts.