While Competition Stout; Little Room To Run For Cowboys

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IRVING, Texas – When DeMarco Murray rushed for 131 yards in the opening game against the Giants, it was a sign of the running game possibly coming back to form after some lackluster seasons that haven't seen a 1,000-yard rusher since 2006.

But since that game, Murray has totaled just 106 yards in the three outings since, dipping the Cowboys to 30th in the NFL in rushing at just 67.8 yards per game.

Monday night against Chicago, the Cowboys' running game offered little help to the offense, producing just 41 yards on 14 attempts. Murray had 24 on 11 carries.

While the bye week is often a time to make some adjustments, just what can the Cowboys do to fix the running woes? Change up the personnel on the offensive line? Use Felix Jones more as a rotational back? Run out of more wide-open sets, which means less running behind fullback Lawrence Vickers?

For now, head coach Jason Garrett is taking a different approach.

"Well, what you have to do is you just have to keep banging away," Garrett said. "Right now, we're not controlling the line of scrimmage. We have too many minus-plays. We had a lot in the game (Monday) night. When that happens, it puts way too much pressure on the quarterback to make plays. We need the running game to take the pressure off of him. And we're not doing that."

So what has changed so much from the first game of the season?

For starters, the competition has gotten much better. While the Giants are considered a top defense in terms of pass rush, they rank 21st against the run.

The next three opponents on the Cowboys' schedule rank second, third, and fourth. Seattle has the NFL's second-best run defense, allowing just 62.8 yards a game. The Cowboys had just 49 yards rushing in Week 2 against the Seahawks.

Next came the Bucs, who rank fourth in the NFL in run defense. The Cowboys were worse there with just 38 yards rushing on 23 attempts.

Chicago now has the NFL's third-best defense against the run after shutting down Murray and the Dallas attack.

Obviously the Cowboys have some continuity issues on the offensive line, a group that didn't get much work together in the offseason because of multiple injuries. The injuries didn't stop when the regular season began either, as center Phil Costa re-aggravated his back three plays into the opener, forcing newly-acquired Ryan Cook into action. 

Costa could return after the bye, and Garrett wouldn't comment on the competition at center, stating it will be evaluated once Costa can get back to 100 percent.

He also didn't sound like changes at other positions will be made, although there has been some speculation around Valley Ranch that veteran guard Derrick Dockery could be inserted into the rotation for either Mackenzy Bernadeau or Nate Livings.

Garrett instead offered his support of the current group.

"We like the five guys who are playing up front," Garrett said. "I think, collectively as a group, they blocked that front fairly very well, particularly in the passing game the other night against Chicago, and Mackenzy is a part of that. Like everybody on the football team, it can get better. It's nice to have a guy like Dockery sitting right there where we feel like he's a guy who has some experience and we're certainly confident in his ability to go out there and play."

Vickers, who was signed in free agency from Houston, hasn't been too productive in his first four games with the Cowboys. He categorized his play as "just all right" when asked on Wednesday.

"We're not getting the job done," Vickers said. "We can be a good offense. We can be a good running team. We're just not executing. And that's on me, that's on all of us."

As for Murray, who called this bye week a "long two weeks," he said his confidence won't waver.

"You have to stay confident and that won't change," he said after the Chicago game. "I trust the guys up front and I know it's a collective effort. I have to get better, they have to get better. We just have to get better as an offense. It's everyone. So we have to use (the bye) to our advantage and turn it around."

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