ARLINGTON, Texas – Something about playing the Rams seems to bring the best out of DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys' defense.
Murray rushed for a season-high 175 yards in Sunday's blowout 31-7 win against the Rams, marking the running back's highest rushing total in a game since the last time he played St. Louis, when he set the Cowboys' single-game record with 253 rushing yards in 2011. [embedded_ad]
"The most important thing we did was to run the ball," said head coach Jason Garrett. "I thought we were physical up front with them. We've gotten stronger on the offensive line this year. The presence of Travis Frederick, the guys playing guard for us … I just think we're a stronger football team inside."
The 24-point win marked the greatest margin of victory for the Cowboys since beating the Bills by 37 points in 2011. Dallas beat St. Louis by 27 points two weeks prior to that victory against Buffalo, but those types of wins have been a rarity since, as a sense of uneasiness surrounded the Cowboys' eight victories in 2012.
They trailed in every game last year, but the Cowboys appear to be taking a different form so far this year. Dallas has now led the entire way in two of their first three games of the 2013 season, and their two victories this year now have them leading a struggling NFC East.
"It's approximately 500 games since I've been with the Cowboys in 25 years," said owner/general manager Jerry Jones. "I bet I can count on 15 fingers, 20 fingers, the number of games that have had this kind of positive play, get the lead and have this kind of ultimate outcome. You don't get many in the NFL."
Murray's performance was the highlight of the day and has to give a heavily criticized offensive line some confidence going forward. The starting running back wasted no time getting in a rhythm Sunday afternoon, taking his first carry 14 yards.
That was Murray's longest run of the season up until that point, but he'd continue to shatter that mark the rest of the day. He took one carry in the first half for 36 yards and another in the second half for 41 yards, averaging 6.7 yards per carry on 26 attempts.
"If you give DeMarco holes, he can make great cuts and can take it all the way," said linebacker Sean Lee. "He's a complete back, and so it was fun to see him break out a little bit."
He finished the Cowboys' first drive of the game with 43 rushing yards on six carries, setting up a 2-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant to get the Cowboys on the board. Murray ended the first quarter with 10 carries for 86 yards, and he singlehandedly tallied five times more rushing yards than the Rams in the game.
The entire offense was clicking and using all its weapons throughout the day. The Cowboys' offensive efficiency continued in the second half, as they generated a six-play, 80-yard drive that ended in tight end Gavin Escobar's first career touchdown reception on the first drive of the third quarter.
That opened up a 24-point lead the defense wouldn't come close to relinquishing. The Cowboys' defensive line completely dominated the line of scrimmage, taking down Sam Bradford six times. He hadn't been sacked once all season prior to Sunday's game.
Two of those sacks went to DeMarcus Ware, who set the Cowboys' all-time record in career sacks in the process with 115, passing Harvey Martin.
"When you have everybody playing well on the team, it's always a team win," Ware said. "When you get a win like we did in great fashion, breaking records or making plays on defense, making plays on offense, it always feels great."
The Cowboys held the Rams to just 18 yards of total offense in the first half. Meanwhile, Dallas had amassed 202 at the time, including a season-high 97 yards on the ground. The Rams finished with 232 total net yards to the Cowboys' 396 and went 1-for-13 on third downs.
St. Louis totaled just one first down in the first half. The second time they crossed the sticks came on their first drive of the second half, when Justin Durant forced a fumble after a completed pass.
Neither team threw a pick, but the Cowboys had one in their grasp. Rookie safety J.J. Wilcox had his first career interception in his first career start called back on a roughing the passer penalty. The Rams would continue that drive and score their only touchdown of the game on a fourth-and-4 touchdown pass to Austin Pettis.
Jason Hatcher was flagged for that roughing the passer penalty, but that was one of few mistakes for the defensive tackle, who was consistently in the backfield and tallied one sack and three quarterback hits on the day. He now has one sack in all three games this season.
"We had a great energy coming into this game," Hatcher said. "Everybody was focused, locked in. I could just feel the energy."
The only major gaffes of the day came on special teams, when Dwayne Harris muffed a punt on the first punt return of the game and Dan Bailey missed a 35-yard field goal in the third quarter.
Otherwise, the Cowboys were completely stout on both sides of the ball, and the early rushing success allowed Tony Romo to keep his pass count down and stay efficient, throwing three touchdown passes without an interception.
"I think any time you only have to attempt however many passes we did today, your job is easier," Romo said. "Each game is going to come up different. You'll have one or two games like this and you'll have one slanted the other way and you have to throw it more times than you want to. That's going to be part of the season, but it's nice today to just give them the ball and just let those guys go."