The Dallas Cowboys finished 2012 averaging the fewest rushing yards per game in team history as DeMarco Murray nursed an injury for most of the season.
The running game hasn’t been any better through the first two weeks this season despite Murray being healthy, and he’s placing most of the blame on himself heading into Sunday’s home matchup with the St. Louis Rams.
Murray rushed for 131 yards in a season-opening victory over the New York Giants in 2012, but he sat out six straight games in the middle of the season with a sprained left foot. The Cowboys’ running game sputtered throughout last season, finishing 31st in the league with a team-worst 79.1 yards per game.
They have yet to get on track in 2013.
Murray ran for 86 yards on 20 carries as Dallas (1-1) beat the Giants 36-31 in the season opener Sept. 8, but he rushed 12 times for 25 yards as the Cowboys totaled 37 on the ground in a 17-16 loss to Kansas City last week.
“The running game has to start with myself,” Murray told the team’s official website. “As a running back and competitor, you want to have the opportunity to have some kind of uplift. I have to work hard this week and make sure I’m ready for the Rams game.”
He may want to watch tape from the last time he faced St. Louis. Murray rushed for a franchise-record 253 yards, including a 91-yard touchdown, in Dallas’ 34-7 victory Oct. 23, 2011.
While a similar performance would of course be welcomed, the club will still be looking for a more complete effort.
Playing with sore ribs suffered in Week 1, Tony Romo went 30 of 42 for 298 yards and a two-yard TD pass to Dez Bryant, who caught nine passes for 141 yards. Romo also lost one of Dallas’ two fumbles and the defense failed to register a takeaway after forcing six turnovers against New York.
“You’ve got to run the ball better, you’ve got to score when you’re (in the red zone). You’ve got to stop people,” Romo said. “Every team’s doing the same thing after this week that lost, and we’re going to be included in that.”
Getting the running game going against St. Louis may be difficult as the Rams held Atlanta to 36 yards on the ground last week. However, they allowed 357 yards through the air in a 31-24 defeat.
St. Louis (1-1) also hasn’t had much success running the ball, though that’s partially due to falling behind by double digits in each of its first two contests. It trailed Arizona by 11 in the second half before rallying for a 27-24 win Sept. 8, then gave up the first 21 points before its comeback fell short last week.
The Rams ran 18 times for 69 yards as Daryl Richardson finished with 35 on 10 carries.
“Our running game, we haven’t had a chance to do much because we got behind,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “I think it needs to get better than it was the first couple weeks.”
Sam Bradford, who missed the last meeting with Dallas because of an ankle injury, completed 32 of a career-high-tying 55 attempts for 352 yards and three touchdowns Sunday as the Rams ran a hurry-up offense in the second half.
“I think it made a pretty big difference,” Bradford said. “It seemed to just put them on their heels a little bit.”
Despite Bradford’s success, Fisher is looking for a more well-rounded offensive effort this week.
“We still need to get the run game going to have balance in the offense,” Fisher said. “We’ve got to get back to work and get ready for the Cowboys.”
In order to start 2-1 for the first time since 2006, St. Louis will have to defeat a Dallas team hungry to bounce back after last week’s letdown. Romo threw for 166 yards and two touchdowns in the last meeting with the Rams, one each to Bryant and tight end Jason Witten.
“A lot of us are down right now, and we all know that how we played is not acceptable,” Bryant said. “I know we’re going to go back in and do what we need to do and clean up these mistakes and get it right.”
Bryant sat out multiple plays last week after taking a hit to his back, but coach Jason Garrett isn’t worried about his star receiver.
“He’s a tough individual,” Garrett said. “He was walking a little slowly (Monday), but we expect him to be ready to go.”
Fisher said offensive tackle Rodger Saffold is day to day with a left knee injury, while safety Matt Daniels will undergo season-ending surgery for a fractured right ankle.