ARLINGTON, Texas – Only the Saints are geographically closer to the Dallas Cowboys among NFC teams than are the Rams, who based on the NFL’s conference logic, reside in the West, while the Cowboys have long been in the East.
And there are no plans to change that to put the Rams in the Cowboys’ division. Sorry, DeMarco, that would be convenient for you.
Maybe the Rams were the exact cure for DeMarco Murray and this running game. No, he didn’t challenge his franchise single-game record of 253 yards he set as a rookie. But his 175 yards are now the second-highest total of his career.
In need of some rushing relief, call on the Rams. Yeah, it doesn’t matter if Jeff Fisher has changed the culture there in St. Louis, the holes looked the same. Unlike that game against the Rams two years ago, Murray didn’t have a 91-yarder to get him going.
And that’s actually even better. For this game was much more workmanlike for Murray and the Cowboys offense. It’s amazing how efficient Tony Romo can be when he’s got a running game like he did Sunday.
Romo wasn’t flashy at all, and that’s perfect. Quarterbacks don’t have to be flashy in a 31-7 win at home. Romo was really good: 17-of-24 for 210 yards and three touchdowns with no picks for a 137.2 passer rating.
When your quarterback can be good, and your running back is great, that’s a recipe for success. Throw in the fact that the Cowboys were downright dominant on defense and that’s your 24-point blowout. And yes, in the NFL, winning by 24 is a complete blowout.
But again, it all started with the running game, and that all starts with the mindset.
You could sense earlier in the week that the Cowboys would indeed focus more on the run. Romo said they needed to run more. Play-caller Bill Callahan said he needed to call more runs. Head coach Jason Garrett said the running game needed to improve and even owner Jerry Jones not only echoed all of that, but also predicted much more success running the ball.
So you knew they would focus on running the rock.
First play – DeMarco Murray left side for 14 yards.
Did anyone else think, just for a moment, Murray might take it the distance just like he did for 91 yards on his first carry against the Rams two years ago, a run also to the left side? He obviously didn’t make it that far, but to that point, it was still his longest rush of the season. That would change later in the day, but he would also get another 14-yarder on that first drive.
Murray for 14, 7, 2, 14, 6 and then no gain. The drive ended with a Dez Bryant touchdown pass, but the message was set. The Cowboys were indeed focused on toting the rock on this day. Hey, those 43 yards on the first drive far exceeded last week’s total of 25 yards in the entire game.
By the end of the first quarter, Murray had 86 yards on 10 attempts. He was at 96 by halftime and then in the third quarter is when he really poured it in, eventually finishing the day with 175.
So what did Murray have to say about this performance?
Well, nothing actually. He spent all day dipping and dodging Rams defenders, that he continued that trend in the locker room after the game. Murray chose not to speak to reporters, later citing that he needed to attend to a family matter. Make no mistake, he ran the ball so well inside AT&T Stadium that he made sure to rush out of the building, too.
Maybe he felt like he did his talking on the field. Whether or not he talked to reporters, Murray’s performance was not only stellar, but was also needed for a Cowboys team that is striving to be balanced.
Yes, Romo is a good quarterback. He has moments when he’s great and he’s had some not-so-great moments, too. That’s Romo. But all quarterbacks need some help. John Elway got a little better when Terrell Davis showed up. Not comparing Romo to Elway, or even Murray to Davis, who coincidentally ripped Murray this week on NFL Network, saying he struggles with his vision and leaves yards on the field.
He didn’t leave much of anything out there on Sunday. And saw things pretty clear from start to finish.
When he’s running well, the entire offense just looks better. It’s amazing how well the play-fake can work when the defense has to respect the run. The line looks better. The receivers are open more, and the quarterback has more time to find the right targets.
This result right here is why every coach in the NFL, college, high school and probably junior high will continue to stress the importance of a good ground game. Even with all of these wide-open, spread attacks that we’re seeing everywhere, it’s still important to run the ball. You have to be able to run it. You have to run it near the goal line. You have to run it on third-and-short, and you have to run the ball when you need to run out the clock and protect a lead.
Say what you want about the NFL becoming a passing league – and clearly it’s changed dramatically over the years – but even a decent running game can open up so many things.
The Dallas Cowboys Texas-2 Defense surely appreciates the rest.
Stats and Notes:
Sunday’s win gave the Dallas Cowboys a 2-0 home record to start the season for the first time since 2007 and fourth time since 1999. The club also did it in 2006. When Dallas opened its home schedule 2-0 in 2007, the club beat the N.Y. Giants in the home opener, followed by a win over St. Louis – the same as this season.
The Dallas defense yielded 18 yards to the Rams offense in the first half of Sunday’s game. The 18 yards was the fewest Dallas allowed in a half since giving up 17 against Seattle (10/11/92) with Jimmy Johnson’s young squad.
The defense also held St. Louis to 1-of-13 on third downs. It was the 18th time since 1991 an opponent had one-or-fewer third down conversions. The last time was at Philadelphia (11/11/12) when the Eagles were one-of-10.
The Dallas Texas-2 defense registered six sacks, the most since six at San Francisco (9/18/11).
Gavin Escobar hauled in his first career touchdown catch on a 24-yard third quarter Tony Romo pass.
Jason Hatcher’s sack Sunday gave him 19.0 for his career to pass Bill Bates (18.0) and Lee Roy Jordan (18.5) and tie Anthony Dickerson and Jimmie Jones for 21st in team history.
Hatcher’s sack was also his third straight game with a sack – the longest streak in his career.
DeMarco Murray rushed for 175 yards Sunday – the second-highest single-game rushing figure in his career. His prior high was the club-record 253 yards also against St. Louis (10/23/11).
Murray’s 175 yards also tied Tony Dorsett (at Baltimore, 12/6/81) for the ninth-best single-game rushing yards figure in franchise history.
Murray carried the ball a career-high 26 times Sunday. His average of 6.7 yards-per-carry were good for his third-highest single-game average (minimum 10 carries).
When Murray tallies 20-or-more carries in a game, the Dallas Cowboys own a 10-0 record – including one non-start.
Murray now has five career 100-yard outings.
Caesar Rayford made his Dallas Cowboys debut playing in the defensive line rotation Sunday.
Tony Romo’s touchdown tosses Sunday gave him a scoring pass in each of the previous 15 games. It also gave him 183 career touchdown throws to pass Rich Gannon (180) and Steve Grogan (182) and tie Craig Morton for 47th in career touchdown passes in NFL history.
DeMarcus Ware had two sacks in Sunday’s game to up his career sack total to 115.0. He passed Harvey Martin (114.0) as the all-time (unofficial since Martin’s sack totals are pre-1982) Dallas Cowboys sack leader. Ware also broke a tie with Sean Jones for sole possession of 17th on the NFL’s all-time sack list.
Ware’s 2.0 sacks Sunday also upped his club record of multiple sack games to 28.
Kyle Wilber had his first career sack in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game.
J.J. Wilcox made his first career start Sunday when he opened up as one of the team’s starting safeties.
With his five catches for 67 yards, Jason Witten has now caught at least one pass in 74 straight games and trails only Michael Irvin (117 from 1990-98) for the team record. Witten’s last game without a reception was at the N.Y. Giants (11/2/08).
Witten’s five catches Sunday brought his career receptions total to 822 to pass Steve Largent (819) 22nd among all NFL pass catchers.
For his career, Witten now has 9,097 receiving yards and passed Tony Martin (9,065) to crack the top-50 and land in the 49th spot on the NFL’s all-time receiving yards chart.
Can you tell us this- We hear that you got in front of the team again in here after the game today?
I was just telling them how proud of them I was. We came out and played great tonight. I’m happy. I wouldn’t trade, I wouldn’t be in no other place. We’ve got great guys on this team and they responded well. They came out. We did what we were supposed to do. We were supposed to win this game and we won.
There’s also a report you had to get on to Romo too (separate series of questions)…
I love Romo to death man. I wasn’t getting on Romo. I love Romo to death. He came out and he balled out tonight. Did you see that? He balled out. They ran the ball, he threw the ball great, he’s the best quarterback in the league. So I love Romo to death. That’s my brother.
You all are good then?
Hell yeah. Where is Romo at? Tell him to come over here. I’m gonna hug his neck. We ain’t got no issues. Where’d you get all that from? I love Romo-Romo loves me. We are teammates, we’re brothers-brotherhood.
Editors note: This questioning relates to a post regarding Romo’s changing run plays to throw the ball vs. KC last week.
Sean , first of all, can we get your thoughts on Ware getting the all time sack record for the Cowboys?
I mean he’s one of the greatest pass rushers of all-time. To play with him has been an honor. Not only is he a great player, he’s a great leader, he’s a great person. So for him; it’s just a testament for how hard he works because everyday in practice he’s working on his game; he’s motivating guys. He’s a complete player and a complete person and it’s been fantastic to play with him.
Sean, when DeMarco’s controlling the ball like that, and you guys have a lot more time of possession, how does that help you guys as a unit when you’re able to get off to the sideline and get some rest and get back out there and fly around the football?
It’s great. DeMarco is an unbelievable running back and they did a fantastic job today: The offensive line and DeMarco. If you give DeMarco holes he can make great cuts and can take it all the way. He’s a complete back and so it was fun to see him break out a little bit today.
Are the ribs continuing to feel better?
Yeah, they’re feeling good. And I think the next game, they’ll be fine.
Did you sense the running game would be this successful today?
I don’t know that you ever go in thinking…I don’t know how many yards we rushed for? Yeah, that’s almost 200 yards, I mean that’s a lot at any level, especially the NFL. That’s just a credit to the guys up front and DeMarco and what they did today. That makes my job and everyone else’s much easier. We wanted to run the football today, and we did a good job of obviously having production to make it easy to do so.
How well did the offensive line play?
They did great. They created some big holes and they also gave me time throughout the game to do some different things and get to some certain guys that you normally wouldn’t get to. Like I said before, it makes everyone’s job easier when you have some good guys up front.
How do you feel Gavin Escobar is coming along?
He’s young. He almost had the one [touchdown] earlier in the game, like you said. I think he lost his shoe against New York on one where I think he would have had one. So, it was just a matter of time. He did a good job on the route today. He’s a big target, so that helps.
After the game on Sunday, one of the game balls was awarded to Jason Hatcher for his effort in shutting down this Rams offense. There was no question that Hatcher deserved that honor but after studying the game, it really was a collective team effort across the defensive line that got that job done. DeMarcus Ware was outstanding against the Rams best offensive linemen, Jake Long. He beat and bashed Long the entire day to the point that Long was ineffective against other rushers like George Selvie and Kyle Wilber. Nick Hayden was making plays seven yards down the field tackling Tavon Austin. Edgar Jones and Jerome Long were able to chip in with some quality plays. Caesar Rayford looked comfortable playing inside at defensive tackle with Long when Hatcher and Hayden needed a break.
Their effort and passion was relentless the entire game. Monte Kiffin, Rod Marinelli and Leon Lett used various combinations in the game and all their moves came up aces. Kiffin was able to just use four man pressure in the game which allowed him to drop seven and handle the Rams skill players underneath and down the field. Where this Cowboys defensive line was most effective was when they were running games upfront with their twist packages. There was constant pressure on Sam Bradford to the point where he really didn’t have the time to look down the field for a receiver. It was a dominating day, for a group that once again had to play without Anthony Spencer but were able to get the job done.
IRVING, Texas – Here are some observations from the film room at Valley Ranch:
Offensively, if the Cowboys were going to have any success, it would be on the shoulders of Tyron Smith and Doug Free. Of all the matchups possible in this game, how Smith and Free blocked Robert Quinn and Chris Long was truly going to tell the story. The game tape, showed that Smith was dominant and Free had not one issue against Long, matter of fact, his only issue for a brief time was with backup, Matt Conrath on a couple of cutoff blocks.
Quinn had come into the game as a nightmare for tackles to have to deal with because of his edge pressure. Smith did a really nice job of not allowing him to get to the edge or work underneath to get inside of him. The one play that Smith allowed Quinn to make which did cause a forced fumble, was the second of the two draw plays that the Cowboys attempted on the day. The first time they ran it, Smith shoved Quinn so far up the field, that Murray did not get touched until he was already in the second level. On the second one, Quinn was able to keep his balance after the shove and he just made a nice athletic play.
Playing against Chris Long, is the perfect type of rusher for Doug Free to face. Free tends to do a better job against defensive ends that don’t play with a great deal of power and are more interested in just getting up the field. It has been well documented that Free’s athletic ability is clearly his best trait. When he can get out of his stance, work wide and adjust, he is a much better player. When he has to face a rusher that extends his hands and just pushes on him, he has trouble sitting down. Long doesn’t play with power and that played right into Free’s hands. I thought that Free was able to play a complete game from a technique stand point as well. He never looked off balance or struggling with Long’s rush. Other than those cutoffs against Conrath, Free was in control, poised and continues to work his way back to that form that we all had observed three years ago.
Watching J.J. Wilcox play is a lot of fun. With Wilcox, you never know what you are going to see next. I had a gut feeling that very early in the week that he was going to make this start against the Rams and as excited I was for him, I also had my concerns. Not of the physical type but would he be able to handle all the routes that the Rams were going to throw at him.
It was clear from the first play of the game when he filled in the box, that the physical side was going to be well and good, but there is something that we are going to keep an eye on as he plays more. As aggressive as he is attacking the ball, he is going to have to learn to come under better control to be a secure, wrap up tackler. I saw the same thing from Barry Church when he started, he would come flying forward and throw his body at the legs of the ball carrier without wrapping up. Bill Parcells use to tell us that poor tackling safeties will cost you hundreds of yards during the season. There is no question that Wilcox gets to the ball but where he can make the biggest difference to this defense, is finishing plays. Jerome Henderson and Joe Baker will work with him to get that cleaned up in his game.
Throughout the game, Wilcox had more chances to play down but he also played some single high and then later in the game some straight two deep. He played some man coverage against Jared Cook which is no small task and when the ball went wide underneath, he was able to rally with the linebackers and drive the ball out of bounds. He played with nice awareness and there were times where when checks were made, you could see him communicating with Church or the corners. He was in outstanding position for the interception of Sam Bradford that was called back, when Hatcher struck Bradford in the head area which was the correct call.
For his first start in the NFL, he was once again, fun to watch. He did not let his coaches or teammates down with his play. He was physical and he didn’t play like he was lost or scared. It was not perfect but it was clearly something they can work with. Paired with Barry Church in the back end, there are some nice possibilities.
I would continue to start Orlando Scandrick at corner and allow Morris Claiborne to come off the bench. Right now, this combination appears to be working very well. Scandrick is playing at a high level both outside and in the slot but I believe that Claiborne looks much more relaxed as well.
It was nice to see, with what happened to Claiborne last week against the Chiefs on the pass interference call, he was able to bounce back with one of his most complete games. I thought he played with nice positioning and movement. He didn’t appear to be struggling with the routes and his reads along with his awareness was much better. There have been times where he has appeared to laboring in coverage and that might have been do to his knee soreness but there was a smoothness to his game.
He was aggressive driving on the ball and when he had to come forward, there was no hesitation or apprehension. He did get the one call against him for pass interference late in the game and on tape, it did show that he used an arm bar to keep Chris Givens from getting up the field but again, if he doesn’t use his arm, he worked himself in position to defend the ball and that was a positive sign.
I understand that Morris Claiborne was drafted to be a starter, but if playing Orlando Scandrick has allowed Claiborne to regain his health and confidence, these coaches need to keep that going because it has benefited both parties. There have been no reasons to take Scandrick off the field at this point and until there are issues, he needs to continue to start. There is nothing wrong with letting Morris Claiborne be that nickel back as along as this defense continues to play like they have this season.