IRVING, Texas – Sticking to the script, it seems likely the Cowboys will let the starters play the first half Saturday against the Bengals at AT&T Stadium.
Of course, that means a half for Tony Romo, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant. It also should mean two full quarters for running back DeMarco Murray, who hasn't received a ton of snaps here in the first three preseason games.
In fact, the Cowboys' starting tailback ranks fourth on the squad in both carries (seven) and rushing yards (22) after three preseason games.
Head coach Jason Garrett said Murray's lack of production has been a result of the Cowboys' lack of offensive success, especially in the red zone where penalties and turnovers have prevented the offense from being able to establish a running game.
That's something the Cowboys are hoping to do Saturday, especially with Murray.
"What we try to do is bump him up each week," Garrett said of the third-year back from Oklahoma. "I don't know if that's actually happened because of the fewer plays and the turnovers. You want to get him feeling like he's playing a game – get knocked around a little bit. Play consecutive plays, consecutive carries – all that stuff."
With the starters in the game, the Cowboys have yet to get on track offensively in the preseason. The starting offense has been out there for five drives and has yet to produce a touchdown, only netting a field goal.
Along with that, Romo has been in for 26 snaps so far this preseason. The Cowboys have passed the ball 19 of those plays.
"You definitely want to have balance and there is certainly do design to say every time Tony is out there we're going to throw it," Garrett said. "We want to have balance breaking the huddle and attack defenses a lot of different ways and it starts with run and pass."
Obviously, keeping Murray healthy for 2013 has been a point of emphasis. Earlier in training camp, the Cowboys held Murray out of a live goal-line drill, using Phillip Tanner with the first-team.
In two years, Murray has missed nine games, including six last year with a sprained foot.
Coincidentally, that's the injury keeping No. 2 back Lance Dunbar out for the rest of the preseason schedule and possibly longer. Dunbar's injury is expected to keep him out 3-4 weeks, but the second-year back from North Texas said he is holding out hope to return by the start of Sept. 8 game with the Giants.
In the meantime, Tanner and rookie Joseph Randle will handle a lot of the backup snaps behind Murray. Expect rookie Kendial Lawrence to get a few snaps in the next two games, particularly in the preseason finale against the Texans on Aug. 29.