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Eatman: Sunday's Key Matchup Should Be Manning vs. Murray


IRVING, Texas –There's going to be a lot of focus on the two quarterbacks this week, and rightfully so.

One of them is arguably the best to ever play the game, and he's certainly playing at the highest of levels right now.

And that other guy … well, he's playing pretty well here lately as well. Tony Romo isn't turning the ball over, but yet the offense isn't producing to the level we've seen in the past.

It's hard to say … pick one or the other, when a guy like Peyton Manning is coming here this week with 16 touchdowns and no interceptions.

But, this game shouldn't come down to Tony Romo vs. Peyton Manning for several reasons. For starters, Manning is the best. Asking Romo to keep up or simply out-duel this guy is probably asking too much. And the reason I even said "probably" is because the only time they did square off, albeit 2006, Romo did beat Manning and he virtually out-played him.

To me, the bigger matchup is going to be Manning's success vs. DeMarco Murray's success.

And no, I'm not just saying the Cowboys need to grind out yards and the clock to try to limit Manning's possessions, although it wouldn't hurt if the game worked out that way.

But honestly, I'm not sure running the ball isn't even a better option right now. Don't look now, but Murray ranks third in the NFL in rushing yards with 356 yards. Not to compare him to the NFL's best in Adrian Peterson, but the Vikings' star has just 65 more yards and 20 more attempts.

Murray's 4.9 yard average is really good, but I think it needs to be pointed out that he doesn't get many carries in short-yardage situations. If Murray got an occasional third-and-1 run for 2 yards, it might move the chains, but it would lower that average.

Of course, I'll take the first downs all day.

And that leads me back to Sunday's game. The Cowboys obviously need to do whatever it takes to be effective Sunday and try to keep pace with Manning and his Denver posse. But running the ball more might be the best and most effective way to start. And with Miles Austin's hamstring injury, the passing game hasn't been an absolute strength, despite Dez Bryant's occasional jaw-dropping plays.

This offense has passed the ball 152 times this year, to 89 rushes. Obviously that needs to change and this is the week to do it. [embedded_ad]

I liked how they ran it last week – averaging nearly 5 yards a carry on first down. But they only ran the ball twice on second down and not once on third. You can say Romo checks out of runs, and I know he's done it quite a bit, but when the Cowboys go to a four-wide set on third-and-2, that play and personnel package is getting called from the sideline.

This team needs to run the ball – not just against Peyton Manning but against Robert Griffin III the next week and Michael Vick after that. They need to run it because I think the Cowboys are starting to become a good running team.

They've added a run-blocking center in Travis Frederick who comes from a run-oriented school at Wisconsin. They've added Brian Waters to the mix and Ron Leary's biggest attribute is his strength. This interior line is completely different than last year and I think it's time they start making the running game less of an afterthought and more of the focus.

And if it happens to keep Manning on the sideline a little more this Sunday … even better.

                   - Nick Eatman is the recent published author of: “Art Briles: Looking Up,” an authorized biography on the current Baylor football coach, with a foreword written by Robert Griffin III.

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