IRVING, Texas – An All-Pro running back is going to line up for the Philadelphia Eagles this weekend and try to secure a crucial division win against the Dallas Cowboys.
That's business as usual, as far as Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is concerned. After all, this is the division rival that has employed the likes of Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy in recent seasons.
It matters to a lot people that the running back in question this season is DeMarco Murray – who was drafted by the Cowboys, who authored one of the best rushing performances in franchise history last fall and who set the tone for the team's first division title since 2009.
Not surprisingly, Garrett isn't one of them.
"That's the business of the NFL -- guys move on to other teams, and now he's competitor," Garrett said. "But we're focused on ourselves, that's what we need to do."
It's a bit surreal to hear Garrett say that about Murray, whose 1,845 rushing yards helped spur the Cowboys to a 12-4 record. Murray's romp to NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors was one of the defining story lines of the NFL season, and his departure to the Eagles on a $42 million contract in March dominated headlines throughout the offseason.
Within the confines of Valley Ranch, however, Garrett has preached the concept of a "nameless, faceless" opponent, and that is precisely what Murray has become.
"I don't analyze that. More than anything, I just have a job to do. It takes up enough of my time getting myself ready to play," said Tony Romo on Wednesday. "I don't analyze what everyone else is thinking and the approach for who's here or who's not here. I think each guy's got to go out and do his job."
He might be playing for a new coach as a member of a rival franchise, but Murray clearly maintained some of the things he learned from his four years playing under Garrett. In his Wednesday afternoon conference call with Dallas media members, Murray fielded no shortage of questions about his first game against the Cowboys – and stiff-armed them all.
"I'm not looking at it as facing the Cowboys. I'm just going through my normal routine, normal preparation," he said. "I'm not trying to do anything extra or worry about anything that I don't have to worry about. Just preparing like I always prepare for any other game."
None of this is to say the bonds of the 2014 season are completely severed. Murray said he still considers Romo, Jason Witten and other former teammates as friends away from the football field. Garrett reiterated that, citing the multitude of relationships formed from the time Murray was drafted No. 71 overall in 2011 to his eventual departure.
"We certainly appreciate everything he did for us when he was here. And he and I certainly have a relationship and will continue to have a relationship," Garrett said. "He has a relationship with his teammates. He has a relationship with his coaches from here, and that continues. But he plays for another team now and we're focused on ourselves and getting ready for this game on Sunday."[embeddedad0]
In that game, Murray will wear his familiar No. 29, this time in opposing colors, and he'll attempt to improve on an abysmal Eagles rushing effort that saw them run the ball 16 times for 63 yards as a team last week. Murray accounted for just nine of those yards on eight carries, though he scored touchdowns both through the air and on the ground.
While he focuses on that, the Cowboys will turn their attention toward stopping him – and not much else. The successes of 2014 and the happenings of the offseason won't factor largely in whether the Cowboys wind up 1-1 or 2-0.
"We're just focused on ourselves. I'm watching tape of the defense, and I've got to figure them out," Romo said. "They have a couple new wrinkles that I've got to get down by the end of the week. They're a great unit, so we've got to get prepared for them."
The focus is clear: another nameless, faceless opponent for the Cowboys to discuss. It won't stop fans from arguing or reporters from writing, and it won't keep the high-profile storyline off the TV broadcast.
To that end, Romo put the issue succinctly.
"As far as the other stuff -- it's for your guys, really," he said.