IRVING, Texas – Something got lost amid the anger and frustration at the Cowboys' last-gasp loss to Green Bay on Sunday.
Amid the outrage over questionable play calling and non-existent defense, one stunning revelation seems to have eluded the conversation. It wasn't Tony Romo or Dez Bryant fans wanted more of as the Cowboys' lead dwindled – it was DeMarco Murray and the ground game.
"I just think we're executing better. The offensive line is doing a great job blocking – everybody's on the same page," Murray said. "We're spending a lot of time in the meeting rooms making sure we're accounting for all the blockers and things of that nature – making guys miss. So we've got to continue to do those things."
None of this is surprising if you've seen the Cowboys run the ball in the past month. But then, it's entirely unexpected when one stops to consider the preseason narrative surrounding the third-year running back.
Murray missed six games and ran for just 663 yards in 2012, which helped the Cowboys finish 31st in the league in rushing. The preseason questions surrounding him centered on whether he could stay healthy and improve his level of play.
As he sits just 23 yards away from becoming the Cowboys' first 1,000-yard rusher since Julius Jones in 2006, that answer seems to be a resounding "yes."
"He's running very well for us – he's playing with a lot of confidence," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "You see him running downhill, he's physical at the end of runs, you can tell he's seeing the hole – not only at the initial level, but also when he gets to the second level."
But it's easy to forget: at the halfway point of the season, all the criticisms seemed validated. Murray performed admirably in the season opener against New York, and he ripped St. Louis for 175 yards. But he had been a virtual nonfactor in four or so other games, and a foot injury had forced him to miss two weeks.
After a slow start in his return against Minnesota, he's ripped off 518 yards in his past five games – more than 53 percent of his total. He's managed at least 89 yards and at least 5.6 yards per carry in four of those five games.
The one game where he was held below those totals was a three-touchdown outing against Oakland on Thanksgiving.
Murray's total number of carries – 178 on the season – is well below most league-leaders, but his season average of 5.5 yards per carry is the best in the league among players with 100 or more carries. Always quick to avoid taking credit, Murray said it's a product of blocking by his offensive line – among others.
"Those guys are blocking well. We're all playing together in the run game," Murray said. "The tight ends are blocking well, the receivers are blocking well, we've just got to continue to have opportunities go out there, execute, and hopefully we'll get the best of them."
Which brings the issue full circle – why did Murray touch the ball just seven times in the second half last week, despite a large lead and a Green Bay defense that couldn't stop him? Murray said he'd like the opportunity to finish off games, but he declined to take the bait in expressing any added frustration. [embedded_ad]
"That's kind of what you want to do. The offensive line, and the way we've been running, and we feel like we can close the game out," he said. "But once again, that's up to Callahan calling the plays. He gives us good opportunities, and we've just got to continue to get those opportunities and help this team out as much as we can."
Those opportunities might not have come at the close of the Green Bay game, though Garrett admitted he'd rectify that if he could.
"When you step back and look at it again, you probably would have wanted a little bit more balance and run the ball a little bit more," he said Monday.
It almost seems hard to believe, given where the ground game was a year ago at this time. But whatever role Murray has earned going into the last two weeks, he said the focus has to be going forward – not on missed opportunities.
"Just keep playing – just keep playing ball. There's a long season left," he said. "We've got two games left, and we know the situation. We've got to continue to work hard and get better every day."