The Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles both had rough days on Sunday. The Eagles were coming off a rough loss at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Cowboys were looking to build on their win in Miami last weekend with quarterback Tony Romo back. The Eagles were thoroughly dominated by the Lions 45-14. Calvin “Megatron” Johnson dominated the Eagles secondary (especially rookie cornerback Eric Rowe) to the tune of eight receptions, 93 yards and three touchdowns. And defensively, defensive end Ziggy Ansah led a resurgent Lions defense against backup quarterback Mark Sanchez and an inept Eagles offense. As far as the Cowboys, the momentum they had off their win in Miami quickly dissipated when Tony Romo threw an interception on the first drive of the game. That interception was one of two that were returned for touchdowns as the Cowboys were down big at halftime. The Cowboys would go on to lose the game 33-14 and lose Romo again to a shoulder injury in the process. Needless to say, the games did not go the way both thought they would. And as a result, both are still trying to find themselves late in the season. But with how bad they are, they are still in the race for the division crown. Along with both teams trying to find themselves, both are trying to find their running games. Murray was the NFL’s leading rusher last season with the Cowboys and there was always the question as to who deserved more credit for it; Murray or the offensive line? Well, this offseason the Cowboys decided not to pay Murray what he thought he was worth. The result was him landing with the rival Philadelphia Eagles and the Cowboys having to break in someone new at running back. The prevailing thought by some were that the Cowboys would continue to run the football well without him and some felt that the Cowboys would suffer without Murray. At this point, the answer has been found and it is one that many did not expect.
Both the Dallas Cowboys offensive line and DeMarco Murray were made for each other. Sure he tripped sometimes when going through the hole. And at other times, he did fumble the football. But the reality is that both are not the same without the other. Murray has struggled tremendously without the offensive line he used to have. Last season, Murray was running downhill, attacking the line of scrimmage with aggression and power. And that style of running helped lead him and the Cowboys into the playoffs. Fast forward to this year and Murray has not been the same back. He does not have the same strong line to run behind now since he left for Philly in free agency. Along with that, the running style is different. The downhill runs have been replaced by more read-option style runs. And although that style of running was something he used when in college at the Oklahoma, it has not worked for him in the NFL. Murray often times has his shoulders parallel to the sideline. When that happens, the power he has is neutralized because he is trying to outrun the defenders to get the corner instead of exploding through a hole. The results of that has been Murray going from the leading rusher in the NFL to a guy averaging a career-low 3.3 yards per game. He may not say it publicly, but he is missing the line he used to run behind. And he has also gone from being one of the best backs in the NFL in 2014 to quite possibly a guy that was overvalued outside of Dallas.
Murray is not the only one that has had issues recovering from last season. The Cowboys were considered to have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. The thought that some had last season was that they were the main reason for Murray’s success. And when he left to go to Philadelphia, there was a lot of talk that the Cowboys would pick up right where they left no matter who was running the football. The Cowboys brought in running back Darren McFadden along with giving running backs Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar a chance to win the job. Randle ended up winning the job over the other two and earned the starting running back job for Dallas. With Randle there, the Cowboys started the season struggling in the running game. The thing that Murray did so well when running the football behind this line was making one cut and getting downhill. Randle was a guy that loved to cut back a lot, even when not needed. The result of that experiment was some good runs but some runs that were negative plays. Dunbar became the pass-catching running back for Dallas until he suffered a knee injury that knocked him out for the year. And eventually, McFadden showed enough to the coaching staff in Dallas to earn the starting spot. Randle eventually was cut due to other issues that came about when he was demoted and now the Cowboys have former Seattle and Cleveland running back Robert Turbin backing up McFadden. And now with the running back depth, the Cowboys finally feel they have a solid back to run the football behind that line. Last week against the Dolphins, McFadden had a good game, running for 129 yards. But this week against a solid defense in Carolina, he only ran for 11 yards on 10 carries. On the year, the Cowboys running game ranks 8th in the NFL compared to 2nd like they were last year. That may not seem like that big a statistic, but that is a difference of roughly 30 yards rushing per game, which is almost a total of 500 less yards on the ground than last year. As a result of that, the Cowboys are not able to set up the pass with the running game. The reduction in production coupled with the injuries to quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant have taken the Cowboys offense from 7th in the NFL in 2014 to 20th in 2015. With a running game that was as dominant as it was last year, the Cowboys may have won more games when Dez and Tony Romo were out. But since they were still trying to get it all figured out, the results were seven straight losses without Romo.
Both Murray and the Cowboys felt they made the best choices for themselves. Unfortunately for both, it has not worked out to be the best decision. Murray is still trying to figure it out without his Cowboys offensive line and the Cowboys are still figuring out their running game without Murray. Both thought they could do it on their own. But at this point, they are both figuring out that they needed each other more than they originally thought they did.