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Auping: Murray's Return Might Be Only Hope For Cowboys

IRVING -As this week moves forward and the Cowboys hold practices, we will likely get closer and closer to finding out whether or not running back DeMarco Murray will be suiting up for the first time since early October to face the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night.

Murray injured his foot in a loss to Baltimore and has been rehabbing the injury since his surgery. We're approaching six weeks of recovery time for Murray, who will likely be testing out the foot all week with hopes of taking the field on Sunday. Hopefully that foot is fully recovered when Murray does suit up because any hope that the Cowboys have of salvaging their season may rest on his shoulders.

There aren't many ways to spin the team's current situation to make it seem like things are going well. At 5-6, the Cowboys can hardly afford to lose another game and still expect to make the playoffs. With a Sunday night beat down of the Green Bay Packers, the Giants have seemingly bounced out of their recent slump and are now two games up on the Cowboys and Redskins for the division lead.

And besides being below .500 this late in the schedule, injuries are taking a huge toll on the club. Already without Sean Lee, the Cowboys lost one of the bright spots of their season when Bruce Carter went down with a dislocated elbow. Carter will see a specialist to determine the severity of the injury.

Carter isn't the only one. After breaking his hand, cornerback Orlando Scandrick will likely miss the rest of the year. There were injuries to Miles Austin and Jason Hatcher on Thanksgiving. Jay Ratliff was already ailing. And the already shaky offensive line is beat up, forcing backups to play and starters to play out of position.

This late in the season, with so many injuries and coming off of a tough loss to Washington, is the time when a lot of NFL teams might just give up hope and accept what seems to be the inevitable: another year without the playoffs.

People who watch this team don't have a lot of trouble defining their characteristics. Tony Romo will likely throw the ball more than the opposing quarterback and rack up a high number of yards. He's also liable to throw an interception or two (or five). The running game will be nearly nonexistent, and the defense will be solid enough to prove it's one of the better units in the league, but will give up just enough big plays to prove that it's probably not an elite defense.

That's what we think they are because that's what they've shown us. And what can change that? Well, the only answer might be Murray.

After another brutally insufficient performance on Thanksgiving, the Cowboys rushing offense has now found its place at the bottom of the league. That's right, averaging a meager 78.7 yards per game, the Cowboys are 32nd in the NFL in rushing yards. There are a few teams in the league that more than double that average.

Whether it's been Felix Jones, Lance Dunbar or Phillip Tanner, no running back has had success on the ground. For that reason the Cowboys often abandon the running game completely. Against the Redskins the Cowboys handed the ball to a running back nine times the entire game.

But soon they will likely get back their starting running back and one of their franchise players. Considered by the Cowboys and many people around the league to be a top-five caliber running back, Murray was projected to rush for well over 1,000 yards coming into this season, barring injury.

There's no denying what Murray is capable of doing. We saw a lot of it last season and he provided a few examples before getting injured this year. But the question is whether or not he can compensate for what seems to be inadequate run blocking. It's not just that Jones and Dunbar are ineffective, it's that they seem to get hit almost immediately upon receiving the handoff. Can any running back thrive in this situation?

It certainly feels like this ship is sinking, but if you want to fix a team then you have to first address the biggest weakness and that's the running game. If the Cowboys can run the ball more effectively then the offense will become less predictable, likely resulting in fewer interceptions. It will also mean a longer time of possession, which will certainly help the defense.

Something needs to change for this team to change its fate. Something will likely change soon in that they may see the return of a star player after a long absence. The Cowboys have tried their best to hold on without Murray, but at this point of the season, he might be their only hope.

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