Aikman: Cowboys fine without Murray if unable to play

Cowboys owner/physician Jerry Jones will spend much of the week saying that star running back DeMarco Murray could play Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts despite his broken left ring finger. Some of this might have a hint of truth to it, but it’s unlikely Murray will be able to carry a football this close to surgery.

The best news for Cowboys fans is that losing Murray for one game isn’t anything close to playing the Cardinals without Tony Romo. That’s not a knock on Murray, who’s been the centerpiece of this improbable 2014 season. It’s just that Romo is much tougher to replace than Murray. For one game, Joseph Randle is capable of doing a pretty decent imitation of Murray. He has a little more speed and quickness, if not the power and vision of Murray. We’ve seen what Romo’s backup, Brandon Weeden, looks like as a starter.

Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said he has "a lot of confidence" in Randle and Lance Dunbar, although you can’t tell it by how they’ve been deployed this season. Murray is one of the rare bellcows in the NFL. Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell’s about the only back you can compare him to this season in terms of what he’s asked to do from week to week. The Cowboys haven’t taken a look at Randle and Dunbar, in part because Murray’s been so wildly productive.

"He’s as strong-willed and determined an individual as I’ve ever been around," Garrett said of Murray. "If anybody has a chance to come back, he does."

The fact that right tackle Doug Free and right guard Zack Martin are dealing with ankle injuries further complicates things for the Cowboys. Martin’s injury appears to be less serious than Free’s at this point. And at least Free’s backup, Jermey Parnell, has some experience as a starter.

Cowboys fans will remember that Emmitt Smith played with a broken hand after missing one game, but his Hall of Fame teammate Troy Aikman was quick to draw a distinction between Smith and Murray.

"If he has to wear a cast, I can’t imagine you’re going to be able to do something — if it’s a hard cast — where he can carry the ball in that hand. He’s had issues, as we know, already with fumbling the ball this year," Aikman told me Monday during an appearance on 103.3 FM ESPN’s The Afternoon Show. "I don’t think it could be where he could carry it in one arm. Emmitt Smith certainly did but it’s something that he always did."

Aikman was highly critical of the Cowboys’ lack of an identity last season. He called 2013 a "lost season" for the organization. He now believes the Cowboys have the potential to make some noise in the postseason. And he doesn’t think Murray’s possible absence Sunday is a dealbreaker.

"If he’s unable to play, it’s very impactful," Aikman said of Murray. "This offensive line is terrific as we know and Joseph Randle has done great when he’s had his opportunities, but they’ve been limited. He’s not DeMarco Murray. I’ve said it before, I think this team is where they are for a lot of reasons but I think the guy who really drives this thing is Romo. He’s the one that they just cannot afford to lose. As big of a loss as DeMarco Murray would be — and I’m a huge fan of his — I think they could still get enough out of the running game. As long as they’re able to keep Romo upright and throwing the football, I anticipate they’d still be highly competitive offensively."

And now that Romo has survived the most difficult stretch of the season, he can keep re-writing his December narrative.

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