ARLINGTON, Texas – The middle was wide open. Not just for a couple of plays, but really all game long.
Why? Was it the Eagles' struggling play at safety? Was it their fear of the Cowboys' receivers?
Or maybe, just maybe the return of DeMarco Murray had something to do with it all.
His 23 carries for 83 yards and a touchdown look anything but stellar. Then again, Murray lost 10 yards on that last drive trying to run the clock out.
But without a doubt, when it mattered most, Murray was a difference maker in the Cowboys' 38-33 win over the Eagles Sunday night.
Welcome back, DeMarco.
While Felix Jones did an admirable job in relief, it wasn't the same. Murray proved that early and often and it was a big reason the Cowboys were able to rack up 417 offensive yards. Now, Tony Romo had one of the best games of his career, especially in the second half when he was a perfect 10 of 10 with three touchdowns.
But that middle of the defense was wide open and the reason was the running game.
The Cowboys scored four offensive touchdowns, including a 1-yard scoring run by Murray in the second quarter. That play was set up by Jason Witten being wide open down the seam of the field for a 28-yard gain. When is the last time defenses have let Witten go free like that?
In the second half, it was more of the same.
The Eagles had no choice but to cheat a safety and linebacker up the middle to help with the run and that's where Romo and the receivers picked them apart.
The first touchdown pass to Dez Bryant was Romo buying time with his legs and then tossing one to Bryant on the left flat. He made a move to the inside and then darted to the end zone, sprinting through a vacated space in the defense.
The next score was more of the same. Miles Austin caught a slant over the middle and went 27 yards to the end zone, once again beating his man off the line and then using speed to beat the defenders in an open area.
The last touchdown was set up by Witten's catch over the middle for 36 yards. Once again, the defense let him roam free and get down to the 4, where the Cowboys would again score on a quick pass from Romo to Bryant. In fact, you can argue that play was also aided by the running game, considering the Eagles had to stack the line and put single coverage on Bryant on the outside. Romo checked to a pass, allowing his playmaker to make a play, which he did for a go-ahead touchdown.
The sign of a good player, really in any team sport, is the ability to make your teammates better. That's what Murray provided for the Cowboys Sunday night, and he did so without the ball in his hands several times.
Of course, none of that works if he's not successful when he actually does carry the ball.
Murray has the ability to make tough yards when nothing is there. Either he's pushing the pile forward for a couple of yards, or simply bouncing to the outside for a big gain. Murray's 27-yard run in the third quarter was his third longest of the season, and the Cowboys' longest rush from scrimmage since Murray had a 28-yarder in the Ravens game.
Did I mention this guy was missed?
Murray really isn't overly dynamic in his production. It's really not flashy, but the Cowboys don't need that from their running game.
Romo's ability to make plays is flashy. Austin's speed in the open field is flashy. Bryant, being the beast he's been the last four games, is ultra flashy.
Guys like Witten and Murray don't need to be anything other than workman-like. That's not to say the Cowboys won't appreciate a long, tackle-breaking run by Murray, who has shown the ability to hit home runs with a 91-yard touchdown scamper last year.
But all that is gravy. What they need is a guy they can trust to give the ball to on third-and-1 and even on fourth-and-1 in the third quarter. Murray was stuffed at the line of scrimmage on the fourth-down play, but still had enough strength to get forward for the first down, which was a huge play in the game.
You don't have to be a running team. You just have to run when you need to.
The Cowboys haven't been able to run the ball at all here lately, but it changed Sunday night with Murray back in the lineup.
And with that, Romo had his best game of the season and arguably one of the best of his career.