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Eatman: When The Running Gets Tough, Bring On The Rams

Posted Sep 22, 2013


ARLINGTON, Texas – Only the Saints are geographically closer to the Cowboys among NFC teams than are the Rams, who based on the NFL’s conference logic, reside in the West, while the Cowboys have long been in the East.

And there are no plans to change that to put the Rams in the Cowboys’ division. Sorry, DeMarco, that would be convenient for you.

Maybe the Rams were the exact cure for DeMarco Murray and this running game. No, he didn’t challenge his franchise single-game record of 253 yards he set as a rookie. But his 175 yards are now the second-highest total of his career.

In need of some rushing relief, call on the Rams. Yeah, it doesn’t matter if Jeff Fisher has supposedly changed the culture there in St. Louis, the holes looked the same. Unlike that game against the Rams two years ago, Murray didn’t have a 91-yarder to get him going.

And that’s actually even better. For this game was much more workmanlike for Murray and the Cowboys offense. It’s amazing how efficient Tony Romo can be when he’s got a running game like he did Sunday.

Romo wasn’t flashy at all, and that’s perfect. Quarterbacks don’t have to be flashy in a 31-7 win at home. Romo was really good: 17-of-24 for 210 yards and three touchdowns with no picks for a 137.2 passer rating.

When your quarterback can be good, and your running back is great, that’s a recipe for success. Throw in the fact that the Cowboys were downright dominant on defense and that’s your 24-point blowout. And yes, in the NFL, winning by 24 is a complete blowout.

But again, it all started with the running game, and to me, that all starts with the mindset.

You could sense earlier in the week that the Cowboys would indeed focus more on the run. Romo said they needed to run more. Offensive coordinator Bill Callahan said he needed to call more runs. Head coach Jason Garrett said the running game needed to improve and even owner Jerry Jones not only echoed all of that, but also predicted much more success running the ball.

So you knew they would focus on running the rock.

First play – DeMarco Murray left side for 14 yards.

Did anyone else think, just for a moment, Murray might take it the distance just like he did for 91 yards on his first carry against the Rams two years ago, a run also to the left side? He obviously didn’t make it that far, but to that point, it was still his longest rush of the season. That would change later in the day, but he would also get another 14-yarder on that first drive.

Murray for 14, 7, 2, 14, 6 and then no gain. The drive ended with a Dez Bryant touchdown pass, but the message was set. The Cowboys were indeed focused on toting the ball on this day. Hey, those 43 yards on the first drive far exceeded last week’s total of 25 yards in the entire game.

By the end of the first quarter, Murray had 86 yards on 10 attempts. He was at 96 by halftime and then in the third quarter is when he really poured it in, eventually finishing the day with 175.

So what did Murray have to say about this performance?

Well, nothing actually. He spent all day dipping and dodging Rams defenders, that he continued that trend in the locker room after the game. Murray chose not to speak to reporters, later citing that he needed to attend to a family matter. Make no mistake, he ran the ball so well inside AT&T Stadium that he made sure to rush out of the building, too.

Maybe he felt like he did his talking on the field. Whether or not he talked to reporters, Murray’s performance was not only stellar, but was also needed for a Cowboys team that is striving to be balanced.

Yes, Romo is a good quarterback. He has moments when he’s great and he’s had some not-so-great moments, too. That’s Romo. But all quarterbacks need some help. John Elway got a little better when Terrell Davis showed up. Not comparing Romo to Elway, or even Murray to Davis, who coincidentally ripped Murray this week on NFL Network, saying he struggles with his vision and leaves yards on the field.

He didn’t leave much of anything out there on Sunday. And saw things pretty clear from start to finish.

When he’s running well, the entire offense just looks better. It’s amazing how well the play-fake can work when the defense has to respect the run. The line looks better. The receivers are open more, and the quarterback has more time to find the right targets.

This result right here is why every coach in the NFL, college, high school and probably junior high will continue to stress the importance of a good ground game. Even with all of these wide-open, spread attacks that we’re seeing everywhere, it’s still important to run the ball. You have to be able to run it. You have to run it near the goal line. You have to run it on third-and-short, and you have to run the ball when you need to run out the clock and protect a lead.

Say what you want about the NFL becoming a passing league – and clearly it’s changed dramatically over the years – but even a decent running game can open up so many things.

And Sunday was far from decent.

Now, Murray needs to show it’s more than just a Rams thing.

Photos from the Cowboys' 31-7 win over the Rams >>

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