ARLINGTON, Texas –The last time the Cowboys played the St. Louis Rams, their offense exploded for 445 yards and 34 points, behind a record-setting 253-yard effort by DeMarco Murray.
Of course, the last time the two teams met, it was Week 7 of the 2011 regular season, and the 2-3 Cowboys desperately needed a win to try to create some momentum. This time, the Cowboys don't need a win. But in the preseason "dress rehearsal," as the third exhibition game is typically called, they at least need to show progress, particularly on offense.
While the first-team defense pitched a shutout during its work against the Raiders and Chargers, the starting offense has moved the ball inconsistently and put up only three points.
At least four starters will sit out the game for the Cowboys offense, receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, tight end Jason Witten and center Phil Costa, and the Cowboys haven't spent much, if any time game-planning for St. Louis. But given the fact that the exhibition is being played only 11 days out from the regular-season opener in New York, it would seem there's some pressure on the remaining offensive starters to get things going.
They'll get plenty of work.
"We anticipate them playing the most that they've played in the preseason," head coach Jason Garrett said. "That's typically what we do. We build up from the first game to the second game and they get their most extended work in Week 3 before dialing back in Week 4. So, we anticipate them playing a lot, but the game situation will dictate that as well. We want quality work for them, we want to make sure the plays they do get are good plays, and then we'll look at each other and we'll make some decisions as the game unfolds."
In Garrett's first preseason as the Cowboys' head coach, Tony Romo's group played to halftime of the dress rehearsal game, at Minnesota, then gave way to the backups to start the third quarter. While the quarterback can expect to go that long again, along with four of the five starting offensive linemen and new fullback Lawrence Vickers, the team may insist on pulling Murray early.
If the second-year back is going to carry the load for this team, as appears to be the coaches' intention, there's no point in trying to let him best his performance against the Rams from last year. In fact, there may not be any reason to let him see the second quarter.
Murray has touched the ball only seven times through two preseason games this year.
"It will still be a limited number," Garrett said. "We don't want him banging away out there for too long in this game. At the same time, we want to make sure to give him enough chances to get in the rhythm he needs to. That is a challenge at every position, but particularly that position, a position that is so physical and takes so much of a pounding. You don't want to put him in a situation where he is leaving it all out there on a preseason-game field. We need to get him ready for the start of the regular season. The same thing with Felix (Jones) and our other backs. We try to rotate those guys to get them the touches they need without wearing them down."
As for the guy who made his name at the NFL level against the Rams, he promises he's treating Saturday's contest just like it was Week 7 and the Cowboys have their backs against the wall, or an even bigger contest.
"We're going to approach it like any game," Murray said. "I know it's a preseason game, but I'm going to approach it like it's a playoff game or a real game for me. You always want to go out there and play your heart out and definitely try to get the win. "No matter if I'm playing five snaps or 40 snaps, I'm going to come out there and try to do my best."