ARLINGTON, Texas — If Jason Hatcher indeed did call out Tony Romo, it was DeMarco Murray who answered the call.
Murray ran wild–again–against the St. Louis Rams with 175 yards in the Cowboys’ 31-7 win Sunday.
Before the game, the buzz was about a report that Hatcher, the outspoken defensive tackle, called out Romo after a mistake in practice last week.
According to the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Hatcher jumped on Romo after he audibled out of a run play and threw an interception that resulted in a defensive touchdown.
After a week of pestering from the media about not running the ball enough, apparently Hatcher had had enough, although after the game he denied calling out Romo. He did speak during a team meeting after practice.
“I wasn’t getting on Romo, I love Romo to death,” Hatcher said. “Where is Romo at? Tell him to come over here, I’m gonna hug his neck. We ain’t got no isssues.”
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett also called the report inaccurate, but said what Hatcher did say carried a lot of weight.
“I thought Hatcher’s words after practice were directed at our entire football team,” Garrett said. “He’s one of the most well-respected players in our locker room. Certainly our guys responded the right way.”
Whether it was Hatcher or the criticism for running the ball just 13 times in last week’s loss, the Cowboys came out like a team determined to establish the ground game.
The Cowboys ran the ball on six of the eight plays on their initial drive, which resulted in a touchdown to Dez Bryant.
They continued to feed the ball to Murray unlike the first two games. He wound up with 26 carries and a touchdown, churning up chunks of yardage – the longest run a 41-yarder.
Murray declined to speak to reporters after the game, saying he had a family emergency. But his play said enough about his ability to find holes in this blocking scheme, and without the benefit of a lead-blocking fullback.
“We’ve got to do a good job no matter what the play call is, no matter what the designs of the plays are,” guard Brian Waters said. “We’ve got to do a good job of giving him (Murray) an opportunity, especially to get through the line. We think that once we get him through the line, he can really make some things happen.”
The Cowboys ran the ball 34 times and passed it just 24 times, the inverse of what they did in their first two games. If there was no intent to silence critics about not running the ball enough, it sure looked like it.
“I don’t think so, we took what they gave us,” Waters said. “That’s the name of offensive football, you take what the other team gives you and we were able to take advantage of it.”
Of course, giving the ball to Murray when playing the Rams is not an original idea. The last time the teams met, Murray rushed for a franchise record 253 yards.
With his 175 yards Sunday, Murray has gained 23 percent of his career yards (428 out of 1,846) against the Rams.
“I thought Bill [Callahan] did a good job calling the game,” Garrett said. “I thought the balance was good throughout the game, and kept giving DeMarco Murray opportunities to run the ball from a lot of different personnel groups, a lot of different type formations, but we were consistent and efficient running it throughout the game. I thought that was the difference for us on offense.”
Whoever sent the message to run the ball, be it Garrett, Callahan or Hatcher, it came in loud and clear and caught the Rams off-guard.
“I didn’t expect them to run the ball on us like they did,” Rams defensive end Eugene Sims said. “But they are a good team. We are also a good team. And they won the battle.”
Given more reign over the offense this season, Romo was suspected of checking out of run plays too often. He said the number of times he changed the play at the line of scrimmage Sunday was “pretty close” to last week.
Romo said it was more what the Rams were giving them defensively.
“They started out the game trying to play some inverted-type coverages and they had to get away from that,” Romo said. “So think a lot of their plan was minimized because of [running the ball].”
With the Cowboys gaining 5.7 yards per rush – they had 193 rushing yards in all – for once Romo was enticed to stick to the ground game.
“Tony liked the looks that he had,” receiver Dwayne Harris said. “If he sees something that he doesn’t like, then he always has the ability to change the play. He didn’t do a lot of that, so that was good for us. We just lined up and played football.”
For the Cowboys’ offense, it was a case “message delivered” – even if the messenger happened to be one of their defensive tackles.