IRVING, Texas – In the early part of last week's game with the Ravens, it was hard to tell if DeMarco Murray was just having a great game, or if the overall running attack, with its scheme and blocking combinations, was on point as well.
It didn't take long to figure out the entire running game had come to play in Baltimore. Murray was great and could've had a phenomenal day had it not been for a sprained foot injury that wiped out his second half.
But the simple fact the Cowboys never missed a beat with Felix Jones, who had 92 yards and a touchdown, and backups Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar should signal that the running game as a unit is back to life.
The Cowboys entered last week ranked 29th in the league in rushing but have since improved to 21st after gaining a season-high 227 yards, which was the most ever against a Ravens defense in their franchise's history.
The question now remains, can the Cowboys sustain that this Sunday in Carolina?
And they'll have to do so without Murray, who has not practiced this week and is not expected to suit up against the Panthers.
But head coach Jason Garrett has remained confident in Jones throughout his mini-slump that began back in training camp, and he is happy Jones is rounding back into form, especially this week when he's needed the most.
"Felix Jones has been a good back in the league for a few years now," Garrett said. "He has always seemed to take advantage of his opportunities when he's gotten them, and I think (last Sunday) was a good example of that as well. I thought he ran really tough. He ran hard inside, he ran hard outside, and he broke tackles. I thought he was explosive and he finished runs. We will continue to give him opportunities depending on what DeMarco's health is."
Jones, who received plenty of negative attention back in training camp when he failed his conditioning test and missed the first few days of practice, said his confidence never wavered.
"You don't lose that really," said Jones, who was slowed by shoulder surgery for most of the offseason."But you want to be playing your best. I felt good before but not really in my best shape. I think I'm there now. I just want to keep it going and try to get better each week."
But all of the burden won't fall solely on Jones, who actually missed some time last week in the third quarter with cramps. He had to leave the field to get an IV in the third quarter. The Cowboys then relied on Tanner and even Dunbar, who made his NFL debut with an 11-yard run on his first and only career carry.
"Those guys all stepped up in there and I thought our team did a good job of that when different guys were coming in and out of the lineup prior to the game and then during the game," Garrett said. "They stepped up in there and they dove into their role and did it to the best of their ability. And guys rallied around each other. That's a sign of a team that has a chance to be a good football team. Again, there is a lot of stuff to build on. We have to clean up a lot of stuff from this ball game in all three phases, but we are excited about the opportunity to get to Carolina this week and get another chance to play."
Tanner said the job of a backup tailback is to stay ready. But with Murray out, he knows he will be called upon even more.
"That's the way you want it to be," Tanner said. "I never want to see an injury to any of our guys, but you have to stay ready mentally and physically. I know my number might be called and I'll be ready for it. I'm excited about it."
Just as the Cowboys overall should be excited about their running game, something that was considered a weak spot just a few days ago.