By Shawn Lealos
The Dallas Cowboys are 10-4, lead the NFC East by one game and have two games left as they are trying to make the postseason for the first time in five years. The biggest reason that the Cowboys have ten wins, compared to the eight that they finished the last three seasons with, is DeMarco Murray and his emergence as the best running back in the NFL. Now, as the Cowboys are trying to make the playoffs, Murray might miss their next game.
Murray has 1,687 yards rushing this season, 400 yards more than the second best running back. Those yards, and the fact that his running has allowed Dallas to control the clock, has made the defense better than anyone expected. Last season, the Cowboys had one of the worst defenses in NFL history, and this year’s team isn’t better talent-wise, but Murray’s running has allowed them to rest and that helps them late in games, where they played worse last season.
Murray’s running also helps Tony Romo. In the 90s, the Dallas Cowboys ran the ball a lot with Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman never needed to throw for 300 yards in a game for the team to win. Aikman, Smith and Michael Irvin are all in the Hall of Fame with three Super Bowl rings because Emmitt Smith ran the ball so well that the team remained balanced. This is the prototype team that the 2014 Dallas Cowboys are playing as.
On Sunday night, as the Dallas Cowboys beat the Philadelphia Eagles to take over the sole lead in the NFC East, Murray was running out the clock at the end of the game when he broke a bone in his hand. The bone was the fourth metacarpal and Murray had surgery on Monday to repair it.
There are some case studies to what the Dallas Cowboys can expect from Murray now. Emmitt Smith broke the same bone in his hand in 1999 and was told he would miss three to four games. Smith missed one game after having screws inserted into his hand. Terrell Owens had a similar surgery in 2006 and never missed a game because of the Cowboys bye week.
Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy broke the same bone while playing in college. Lacy didn’t miss a game and actually ran the ball 38 times for 312 yards and four touchdowns in the next two games, which included the SEC Championship game. He then had surgery after the SEC Championship. Murray did have surgery, which complicates that comparison.
Jerry Jones said on his radio show that Murray wouldn’t need to practice this week to guarantee he plays on Sunday. There are also sources inside the organization that claim that the team is confident that Murray can play. The Cowboys are working on ways that Murray can play and not re-injure his hand, which includes wrapping it up and wearing special gloves.
If DeMarco Murray can’t play, Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar will play as a running back-by-committee. While Dunbar has looked good this season while spelling Murray, he has never proven to be a quality starting running back. If he does play in place of Murray, and looks great, it could negatively affect Murray’s contract negotiations in the off-season.
However, the Dallas Cowboys need DeMarco Murray on the field. There is a danger that Murray’s fumbling problems from earlier in the season could return with one hand slightly incapacitated. However, the Indianapolis Colts have the top ranked offense in the NFL and Andrew Luck is throwing for over 300 yards in almost every game. The Cowboys need to keep the ball out of his hands, and the way they can do that is by having DeMarco Murray eat up the clock. This injury couldn’t come at a worse time.
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Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos. Examiner.com.