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While Demarco Murray catches his breath, let's review the game

Tim's picture

Of course, the story of the day was Demarco Murray's 255 yards on 25 carries, breaking Emmitt Smith's 18 year old single game rushing record. Murray set the tone with a 91 yard touchdown on the team's third offensive play of the game. I hope this is a sign of things to come, but I also recall that there have been only five 190+ yard performances in Dallas Cowboys team history, and two of them were by Julius Jones. Which is just to say, I don't know yet if Murray is the future, but I am pretty sure Tashard Choice is the past - Phillip Tanner's brief, but successful outing more or less sealed that.
It's easy to be dismissive of the Cowboys' 294 yard rushing performance against the league's worst rushing defense, but everything is relative. The previous top individual performance against St. Louis this year was Ryan Torain's 135 yards, so you can't exactly say, "Well, everybody puts up 253 yards on the Rams." By any measure, the ground-pounding Dallas pulled off was impressive.
Despite the final score, there were some points in the game that I felt a little uncomfortable. At the end of the first half, the Rams had a four minute time of possession advanatage, although the Cowboys led by ten. Jackson had broken free for a forty yard run, followed by a very easy six yard TD, and I was worried that the dam might break open. It never did, but I really felt that the next Cowboys drive would be key to the game's outcome - they had to take away the Rams' momentum, and regain a two score lead.
The next Dallas possession, their fourth, began on their own twenty, following a touchback. To this point in the game, Dallas had run four times, passed eight, and had a 14-7 lead. Only one of the four runs had been stuffed by the Rams defense. The first play, a deep attempt to Austin, is negated by offsetting penalties, but Austin had not beat his man. Next, a nice run, a pass for first down to Witten, a negative run, then two incomplete passes and a punt.
And there was the "key drive of the game so far." Which put it back in the defense's hands for the next "key drive of teh game so far," before Dallas began to figure out a way to make this game close. The defense delivered, with Jenkins intercepting Feeley on the third play of the drive. Dallas scored a field goal on their ensuing possession, and that ended the half.
It was a two score lead, but it seemed to me that the Cowboys were making it look harder than it needed to be in the first half. The second half did not have a promising start, with Choice getting injured and fumbling the ball away near midfield (following two carries for 25 by the rookie.) The defense once again delivered, forcing a three and out.
Now we face another second half situation that is all too familiar: thirteen point lead, starting at your own 12 yardline. What do you do, Coach Garrett? Your running game is already near the 150 yard mark, and is seemingly unstoppable. Your receivers have dropped a few passes already. What do you do?
You pass short inside on first down. Dropped. You pass to the sideline on second down. Incomplete. You throw a slant on third down and convert. I only highlight this first set of downs to illustrate that the play call is always wrong when it doesn't work. This time it worked, but what would we be saying about Garrett if the ball had been turned over - either by INT or punt - with the Rams in great field position at this point in the game? The rest of that drive consumed almost seven minutes, and added another three to the score. Dallas passed 8 times and ran 4 times on the drive. Of course, the run is supposed to open up the pass, and the balance on a single drive doesn't tell you the story of the whole game. It was that first set of downs that really surprised me. 
Am I the only one wondering, by the way, if the added beef of Montrae Holland on the OL made any difference in the running game? Yeah, I probably am.
So what about this year's usual lead story, the quarterback? Well, let's put it this way: when you have an Emmitt-like running performance, it's a lot easier to put up Aikman-like number: 14 of 24 for 166 yards, two TDs and no INTs. That's a 107 passer rating, if you care about those things. By comparison, in Emmitt's 237-yard game (the previous team record) Aikman completed 9 of 19 for 96 yards with no TDs. He always did what he had to do - not because he couldn't do more, but because winning is more important than numbers.
Yesterday, Romo did that, too. It might be worth mentioning, though, that the five drops - including Bryant's drop of what looked like a sure TD - deflated the passing numbers a little bit. Maybe the receivers were just so surprised to be seeing the ball in that game they couldn't hold on to it? Let's hope so. Dallas has 18 drops for the season now. Austin, with three, leads the wide receivers, but Muraay and Felix each have dropped three, also. That needs to get fixed.
Now, how about the defense? I know "it was just the Rams," but what really impressed me was the commitment that continued even long after the game was decided - that goal-line stand to protect a 34-7 lead. Wow. The defense did not harrass Feeley as much as I expected them to throughout the game, but they seemed to turn up the ferocity more as the game went on - as St. Louis became more one-dimensional. A suffocating run defense will allow you to do that. Despite the one big run they allowed, the team stuffed Stephen Jackson nearly every time he got the ball.
It sure was relaxing to watch a game that wasn't close for once. And with the Rangers big win SUnday night, it was a great day to be a sports fan in Dallas. Now, it's on to Philly for the team's second divisional showdown. Win that, and Dallas is in a greta position to make a run, with only four teams with winning records remaining on the schedule.
One more note on Demarco Murray. His breakout game reminded me just a little bit of Miles Austin vs. the Chiefs, another team record that came when injury opened up a starting chance. Here's hoping that Murray is more Miles Austin than Julius Jones - and that, like the 2009 game that was the first step from 2-2 to 11-5, this game will be a turning point for the year.