ST. LOUIS -- Convinced yet about the Dallas Cowboys’ commitment to the run?
If there was ever a time for the Cowboys to go back to their pass-happy ways, it was Sunday, when they trailed the St. Louis Rams by three touchdowns with a little more than six minutes remaining before halftime. At that point, DeMarco Murray had a grand total of 3 yards on five carries, plus he lost a fumble on a reception.
Murray finished the game with 24 carries for 100 yards and a touchdown, playing a key role in the Cowboys matching the franchise's biggest comeback. Dallas doesn’t pull off the 34-31 victory at the Edward Jones Dome without imposing its will against a Rams defense geared up to stop Murray.
The commitment to the run is real.
“It’s trust,” said Murray, who has at least 100 yards and a touchdown in each game this season. “They trust the offensive line, they trust myself to give us a few yards and get stuff going. That’s what it’s all about.”
You can’t call the Cowboys’ offense soft anymore. Not with three first-round picks on the offensive line paving the way for the NFL’s leading rusher. And not with a coaching staff committed to punishing opponents on the ground, regardless of the circumstances.
“I think everybody’s waiting for that to break and it’s not,” tight end Jason Witten said. “There’s a complete commitment to run the football and continue to run the football and everything we do is off of that. That’s just our football team. It’s a little different than what we’ve been in the past.”
Oh, it’s a lot different than it’s been in the past. The Cowboys, after all, had the second fewest rushing attempts in the league in each of the last two seasons. It didn’t used to take much to get head coach Jason Garrett and quarterback Tony Romo to give up on the run and ride Romo’s right arm.
But this is the way Garrett, who won Super Bowl rings while standing on the sideline and watching Emmitt Smith and a big, nasty offensive line beat up opponents, has always wanted to play. He finally feels like he has the horses to do it after Dallas invested first-round picks in offensive linemen in three of the last four drafts.
“We’re never going to be a team that hands it to him every frickin’ time,” Garrett said. “That’s not how you play offensive football in this league. Teams can take the run away. They can commit people to the line of scrimmage. If they play eight-, nine-, 10-man fronts, you’re not going run the ball. I don’t care who you are. And similarly you don’t want to get into a deal where you’re throwing it all the time.
“You want to be balanced. You want to attack different ways. Keep finding different ways to run the ball.”
That was the challenge for the Cowboys in St. Louis with the Rams consistently bringing an extra defender in the box and playing man coverage on the receivers.
Dallas did indeed find ways to get Murray going. Down 21-0, he was stuffed for a loss of a 2 yards on the first play of the next drive. But Romo handed him the ball four more times on the series for a 14-yard gain behind left tackle Tyron Smith, a 20-yard gain behind Smith again, a 4-yard gain behind center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin and a 1-yard touchdown up the middle again.
Want creativity? Look at Murray’s biggest run of the day, a 44-yard gain on a counter pitch after a fake end-around to Dez Bryant, with Smith leading the way around the left end and Frederick sprinting 40 yards downfield.
These Cowboys make you respect the run. And that puts defenses in position to get burned for a 68-yard touchdown by Bryant off a play-action fake.
“The approach to games is regardless of the front, regardless of the score, that’s the way we’re going to attack and everything else we do comes off of that,” Witten said. “We’re seeing that that’s our identity.”
Added Bryant: “The identity that we’re creating, we want it. We want it to be strong. We want the world to know who we are.”
The pass-happy Cowboys are a thing of the past. This is a smash-mouth team. That’s their story, and they really are sticking to it.