The impact of Tony Fiammetta's injury has been obvious to even the untrained eye. With him in the lineup at fullback, DeMarco Murray rushed for 601 yards in four games, averaging over 8.0 yards per carry.
When Fiammetta was lost to a mystery illness three weeks ago, Murray's production slipped. The rookie runner only averaged 3.35 yards per carry while his lead blocker was out. But there is good news heading into the most important game of the season, as Fiammetta's symptoms have cleared and he has returned to practice this week, apparently with no lingering effects.
Doctors finally diagnosed his issue as an inner ear infection. The nausea went away last week, and he has been able to get himself in playing shape quickly. Head coach Jason Garrett said Fiammetta has not been held back at all during this week's contact drills.
"It's a big game to be back for, I'm excited for the opportunity," Fiammetta said. "The training staff made sure that I wouldn't come back and be out of shape or anything, sucking wind, so they've done everything the right way. I'm feeling 100 percent right now."
Fiammetta, who also led the way for Felix Jones' lone 100-yard game of the year earlier this season against Washington, said there is more to the recent running game downturn than his own absence, as opponents have adjusted to the threat of Murray gouging them on the ground.
"I definitely don't think it was just me," Fiammetta said. "Teams have been stacking the box because of our success with the run. I'm going to do everything I can to get it back going."
In years past, with Deon Anderson or Chris Gronkowski leading the way, the fullback position has been little-used in Jason Garrett's offense. However, that changed this year when the ground game got on a roll behind Fiammetta's lead.
"I think a fullback is vital in the running game, because he has an assignment, but many times he's the clean-up guy," offensive line coach and running game coordinator Hudson Houck said. "The fullback can clean up and take the lineman's guy . . . he can make those adjustments. And as quick as he is, and he plays with good leverage, I think he's a good player.
"I think he is the best that we've had."