In Monday night’s victory over the Washington Redskins, the Dallas Cowboys lost starting running back DeMarco Murray to a knee injury. After a run in the second quarter, Murray landed awkwardly on his left knee and was later diagnosed with a sprained left MCL. This injury is expected to keep him out anywhere from one to six weeks.
The Cowboys running game had really started to click over the past few weeks with Murray averaging 4.7 yards per carry on the season. Most analysts will tell you how much the running game will suffer with him being out, which is true. Let’s face it, Phillip Dunbar and Joseph Randle aren’t exactly going to light it up on the ground. But where the Cowboys are going to miss Murray the most is in the passing game. The Cowboys operate out of a three-wide set with a single back most of the time. But when tight end Jason Witten goes out in a pass pattern as well, Murray is the man responsible for picking up would be blitzers, which he does with the best of them. Murray also is great at executing the screen pass or the basic dumpoff. The sure handed Murray was on pace to catch 64 passes this year, which would have nearly doubled his career high of 35 last year.
Quarterback Tony Romo has played at his highest level as a professional this season. Which is due in large part to his offensive line’s improved pass protection. When in their base set and also in shotgun, Romo has been using audibles to get Murray into the right pass protection. It was very evident in the second half of Monday’s game, that Romo was rattled by the blitzes because he had no confidence in Randle or Dunbar to pick up the blitz. In that second half, the Cowboys went to a 5-wide set to counter act the blitzes. Watch for Romo to look for the ultra quick Cole Beasley in these situations. Obviously he will be referred to as a “Wes Welker type” due to his skin color, but he actually does move like Welker out there. His ability to run quick slants and double moves in the slot, will allow Romo to come to him as the “hot” receiver when the blitz is on. And by the way, the Philadelphia Eagles will blitz Romo A LOT.
Until Murray comes back, I won’t be expecting to see the Romo we have seen in the first five and a half games. But if he can limit the interceptions while looking for the hot reads, the Cowboys can succeed. The other thing that Romo will have to realize is that sometimes a sack is better to take than an ill advised throw over the middle. Romo has been handed the keys to the offense this year and it is undoubtedly “his team”. It’s time to step up and be the leader he’s being paid to be. This was supposed to be part of the schedule where the Cowboys could rack up a few wins and jump out to a big lead in the NFC East that is clearly theirs for the taking. With games coming up against the Philadelphia Eagles, Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, and New Orleans Saints before their bye week, I am starting to think they will be lucky to split those games if Murray is not in the lineup. Romo needs to step up.