Monday, October 24, 2011

Murray's Flurry: Dal 34, StL 7

It's a line I've used plenty of times regarding the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys over the last five years, but after Sunday's 34-7 win over the hapless St. Louis Rams, let's temper the enthusiasm regarding the new franchise single game rushing record-holder:

Put the anointing oil away.

DeMarco Murray gashed the NFL's worst rushing defense for 253 yards on 25 carries and a touchdown -- including a 91-yard score that is second only the Tony Dorsett's historic 99-yard run -- in the second-greatest game by a rookie running back in NFL history. It was fun to watch, and it was a win that Dallas needed to return its record to 3-3 through seven weeks of the season.

With this performance, Murray has certainly leapfrogged Tashard Choice on the depth chart and must be given strong consideration about his number of touches compared to the injured Felix Jones when he returns. The Oklahoma product busted out several long runs against St. Louis, something the Cowboys running game hadn't shown signs of since Jones' rookie season when he displayed an explosiveness that only the likes of Wade Phillips could deny putting him in the starting lineup. In a franchise that ostensibly found its "Next Troy Aikman" in Tony Romo, DeMarcos Murray showed signs of being the closest thing to the "Next Emmitt Smith."

Again, allow me to put the anointing oil away.

The great thing about Emmitt, about any of the good-to-great running backs in the NFL is consistency. They don't have just one big game. They bring it every single week. And despite the fact that Murray will continue to run behind an offensive line that consists of two rookies and another player who Dallas thought enough of to cut in training camp before an injury to Bill Nagy for them to re-sign him, the threat of the Cowboys passing game should help open some running lanes.

Murray has said all the right things in the aftermath of his great performance -- and don't get me wrong, it was a great performance -- still referring to Felix as the starter and crediting his offensive line.

But the St. Louis defense proved so porous that even fourth string running back Phillip Tanner, who you may remember from a helmet-less TD that was called back during the preseason, was able to keep the pace and finish the drive in the first action of his pro career. In total, Dallas rushed for 294 yards on 34 attempts.

The Rams are junk, and it's not their fault they can't plug a toilet, let alone a running lane. And while it will inevitably detract from his single-game performance on this day -- much in the way that sports fans who remember Baltimore's Jamal Lewis running for nearly 300 yards in a game also remember that he did it against the Browns -- if he does go on to accomplish great things (or even just stabilize the Dallas backfield for more than five years), this will be the genesis of it all.

Just a few other points:
+ Nice touch by the Cowboys having a member of each World Series team on hand to participate in the coin toss. Frankly, after country music star Ronnie Dunn performed the National Anthem at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday (one day after doing so before Game 3 of the World Series), I was wondering if Jerry Jones would have Dirk Nowitzki flip the coin too. St. Louis Cardinals fans and Texas Rangers fans alike enjoyed seeing Lance Berkman and Josh Hamilton join the coin toss ceremony. I don't know how often teams playing in the World Series (or any other championship) have the same cities represented in a different major professional sporting event in the same town on the same date, but it's gotta be a short list.

+ Quarterback Tony Romo didn't need to do much as the ground game rolled over the Rams, but let's not discount what was a solid performance. Romo has lost two games for Dallas this year with untimely mistakes, coughing up a 14-point 4th quarter lead in New York in Week 1 and tossing three second-half interceptions against Detroit in Week 4. Those were two games that Dallas had in control and gave away. Is it sad I'm borderline praising him for not imploding like Texas Stadium?

Two TD passes, no interceptions, no rushed throws that sailed into double coverage that left fans grasping for air. None of that. Good. It wasn't a great game. It didn't have to be. Moving on...,

+ Rob Ryan's defense held St. Louis to seven points. An analysis of this game will show the Rams did not have starting quarterback Sam Bradford -- not that it's made a difference in any of their previous five games this year. This is now an 0-6 team, a team that Dallas (which could easily be 5-1 if not 6-0) should and did dominate for four quarters. While I don't think it's necessary to drop to our knees and bow before our homeless-looking defensive coordinator, there is one noticeable difference between this year's defense and even the good units that Wade Phillips commanded here in Dallas: the creation of turnovers. Specifically: multiple turnovers.

Dallas took the ball away twice on Sunday, the team's fourth game with multiple turnovers in six games this season (although this is the first win of 2011 in which Dallas has won the turnover battle). The Cowboys have now taken the ball away 12 times through six games. Both takeaways on Sunday led to scores with Abe Elam's fumble recovery leading to Romo's TD pass to Jason Witten and Mike Jenkins' interception set up a 30-yard field goal for Dan Bailey.

Last year's Cowboys team was horrible through six games, so let's compare how Rob Ryan's defense compares to the Wade Phillips team that ended up going to the playoffs in 2009 (interpret: 2010 was such a lost season, let's just ignore it). In 2009, the Cowboys forced seven turnovers over the first six weeks but didn't take the ball away once in three of those games. This year, the Dallas defense has taken the ball away at least once in every game.

+ Speaking of turnovers, Dallas is still -1 on the season when it comes to turnover +/-. Here's a look at each game so far in 2011 and how the Cowboys have done when it comes to turnovers.

OpponentTake AwaysGiveaways
New York Jets
San Francisco 49ers
Washington Redskins
Detroit Lions
New England Patriots
St. Louis Rams

Don't let the four take aways in the New England game make your mind melt. Yes, if Dallas capitalizes on those opportunities they could have not only been the first team to beat Tom Brady in Foxboro since 2006, but that along with the mistakes in the Jets and Lions games explains why this is still a .500 team through seven weeks of play. But damn it, it's maddening!

+ Last point. At yesterday's Cowboys game, my dad turned to me before kickoff and noted, "Why is the roof closed? It's a beautiful day outside." I don't think it would have been a big enough deal to mention except for the true "idiocracy" of what was noticed during the World Series game next door later in the evening. FOX returned from a commercial break to show Rangers Ballpark's neighbor on Randoll Mill Road, Cowboys Stadium, and there was the $1.2 billion facility with the roof open for National TV's audience to see. Has Jerry Jones lost his mind? Or with Al Davis now dead, is he just trying to make sure no one leapfrogs him as the new "Craziest NFL Owner" (although Davis' legacy lives on as the team traded a pair of No. 1 picks for Carson Palmer last week).

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