It's pretty easy to look at the Cowboys' 12-4 campaign last year and draw the conclusion that the running game was a huge contributor. The Cowboys gained 2,354 yards on the ground last season which was second only to the Seattle Seahawks. Dallas' leading rusher DeMarco Murray would take home the league's rushing title with 1,845 of those yards.
Naturally, his departure in early March is still having lingering effects on fans and even some former players turned analysts. Recently, Michael Irvin spoke to the Star-Telegram about his disagreement with the way the front office handled their running-back situation:
"It’s not just about the collection of talent," Irvin said. "It’s about the collaboration of talent. We are collecting a lot of talent. Will this team be able to collaborate that talent and do something great this year? Can they get it collaborated to be something special?"
"There will be problems if that running game doesn’t get going," Irvin said. "It’s going to fall on Dez Bryant. And then he’s not catching passes because of double teams and worrying about the long-term deal. Then it’s not flowed all the way around. I’m still concerned about the running game."
Similar sentiments have been the caveat of the offseason. Plenty of chatter that the Cowboys need to add more talent to the depth chart. There has been speculation all over the map from the giant mastodon in the room; Adrian Peterson, to trading for Miami's Lamar Miller. In some outsider's eyes, the Cowboys must replace Murray's production or suffer in 2015.
DeMarco Murray is a really talented player, but acting as if he is the be-all, end-all of the Dallas Cowboys' offense is a bit naive. Dallas has spent countless resources in building their offensive line and to discount how dominant that unit has been is preposterous.
To paint a mental picture, when Murray began his career in Dallas the offensive line was as follows: Doug Free, Kyle Kosier, Phil Costa, Montrae Holland, and Tyron Smith. Their backups were David Arkin, Bill Nagy, Kevin Kowalski, Jermey Parnell, and Sam Young. It's safe to say this transformation has come a long way from where it once was. As the offensive line got better over the years, so did Murray's numbers which is a shock to nobody.
The Cowboys walked away with PFF's highest offensive efficiency grade last season with +138.5, which included a +39.5 is pass block and +54.2 in run blocking score. That's pretty high considering the closest team to that margin was the Green Bay Packers with a +113. Dallas spent high-collateral on their offensive line and for that they were rewarded with higher production value.
The Cowboys are in a position right now where they are uncertain of exactly what they have. They shifted their focus towards giving their defense the same type of makeover their offense received. For now, the Cowboys will take the running-back-by-committee approach and look to see what that may bring. However, if somebody should emerge early on, it's not out of the realm of possibility for them to change their tone.
Think about it this way, it's not like the Cowboys planned on going into 2014 giving Murray the ball almost 400 times. Murray decided that he wanted the rock, another back could come in and possibly make the same statement if he's the hot-hand. You always ride the hot-hand in football, Murray will be missed, but that's not to say that he is irreplaceable.
The rushing lanes will be there, it will be determined later which rusher will be running through them. Just like you have to give credit to Murray for what he did last year, you have to give credit to the five big uglies up front, too.