IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys will possess a slight advantage against the Redskins when studying film from the teams' last matchup.
If the Redskins look back to that game, played on Thanksgiving, they can only study Felix Jones and Lance Dunbar as running backs. The duo combined for just 22 yards on seven carries with starting running back DeMarco Murray unavailable and the Cowboys trailing early.
Jones finished with just six carries for 14 yards. Quarterback Tony Romo had half as many carries as the Cowboys' leading rusher, and Romo only had three rushing attempts.
That game marked one of 6.5 that Murray couldn't play in because of his sprained foot. The Cowboys were 3-4 with Murray out of the lineup, including the game he didn't finish against the Ravens. They're 5-3 in every game he could finish.
Much of the reason the Cowboys enter the season finale ranked 31st in the league in rushing offense can be attributed to the absence of Murray for almost half the year.
In the four games since Murray's return, he's already had two games with at least 80 yards rushing. Stellar? No, but not bad considering no Cowboys running back even reached the 80-yard mark during the six full games Murray missed.
What Murray can do transcends the offense. It's not only what he does for the running game that makes the Cowboys better, but also what he does to the passing attack and play-action, which seemed non-existent when he was out of the lineup.
Romo's obtained a passer rating of at least 110 in three of the four games since Murray has returned. Romo recorded just two in 11 games prior this season.
Murray not only helps Romo gain more time in the pocket, but the running back has been a viable threat in the passing game as well, with exactly four catches in every contest since his return.
More than half of Dez Bryant's seven straight games with a touchdown occurred while Murray was back and teams needed to respect the run. Opponents rarely had to worry about the running game when Murray was out. At that point, gaining positive yardage on any running play seemed a victorious surprise.
Murray can usually pick up at least a yard or two extra than the typical running back on any given carry. Even when a hole's not open, he's a threat to bounce it outside for a hefty gain. That may not seem likely against the Redskins' No. 5 rushing defense, but even the top-ranked Steelers defense allowed Murray to go for 81 yards on 14 carries with a touchdown.
The Cowboys might have learned a few things about what rookies Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris can do after seeing them firsthand, but the Redskins won't have that luxury with Murray in the rematch this weekend.