DeMarco Murray's role to expand

IRVING, Texas -- Lance Dunbar had surgery on his left knee on Tuesday. Now the Dallas Cowboys have to figure out how to replace him.

"DeMarco Murray is our lead back, has been our lead back all year long, has done an excellent job for us, did a really good job in the game the other day again," coach Jason Garrett said. "He'll be the lead dog. The other guys, Joseph Randle and Phillip Tanner will have to step up if they have an opportunity if DeMarco can't go."

The "if they have an opportunity," comment stuck. The Cowboys plan to ride Murray as much as they can, despite the belief that the NFL is a two-back league nowadays for guys not named Adrian Peterson. And it's not as if Dunbar morphed into an irreplaceable part on the Cowboys' offense.

Before carrying the ball 12 times for 82 yards against the Oakland Raiders on Thanksgiving, he had 18 carries for 68 yards for the season.

With Dunbar out earlier in the year with hamstring injuries and Murray slowed with a knee injury, Joseph Randle got his first action. He had all 45 of his carries for 111 yards and a touchdown in a four-game stretch, but has not had a carry in the past three games. Tanner has not had a carry in the past four games.

"We'd like to get the other backs in, give them a role, give a chance to give DeMarco rest, play a series, whatever that is," Garrett said. "We'll come up with what those substitution patterns are as the week goes on. We certainly feel confident in putting those other guys in the game though."

They might, but the proof will be on the field.

In his last three games, Murray has 238 rushing yards and four touchdowns (three came on Thanksgiving against the Raiders). He has eight catches for 79 yards in the last two games.

"If you look at the last couple of weeks, both in the Giant game and also in the Oakland game, he's one of those guys who makes a lot of dirty runs," Garrett said. "There were a number of runs in that game the other day where I'm standing there on the sideline saying, 'Boy, it's going to be second-and-10 here, he's not making much,' and somehow he kind of works his way through the hole and makes eight and it's second-and-2. I think that happened a lot. It happened in the red zone a couple of times in the game. Those were well-blocked plays but he found the holes and got himself into the end zone. I just think he's been a very productive back for us. He always has been and I think the thing where he's taken a major step is as a receiver. We felt really good about his receiving ability coming out of school. He was very productive in that regard and just his production, every week you throw it to him three times and he catches it three times for 38 yards. You throw it to him five times and he catches it five times for 42 yards. Sometimes those become those non-descript plays that nobody ever talks about, but they really make an offense go. When we throw him the ball or hand him the ball, usually good things happen. He's been a real good back for us."