Murray lifts Cowboys' running game

BY foxsports • November 8, 2011

The Dallas Cowboys like their chances of making a serious run at the playoffs despite their 4-4 record, and that's not just because of how soft their upcoming schedule appears to be.

Some optimism is based on the recent play of running back DeMarco Murray, and how the rookie's success is affecting quarterback Tony Romo.

Murray rushed for 139 yards on 22 carries and caught four passes for 47 more yards in Sunday's 23-13 home win over Seattle.

An improved running game created more offensive balance against Seattle, helping Romo go 19 for 31 for 279 yards and two touchdowns. What's more, Romo wasn't guilty of an interception and wasn't sacked.

Murray has shown that his club-record 253-yard output in his first extended play against St. Louis was no fluke. When Felix Jones returns from a high ankle sprain, Jones could wind up as Murray's backup.

The news for the Cowboys from Sunday wasn't all good. Wide receiver Miles Austin left in the second quarter with a right hamstring injury and didn't return. Austin is expected to be out for as long as a month.

Missing all of last Sunday's game with injuries were linebacker Sean Lee (left wrist), punter Mat McBriar (left foot), cornerback Mike Jenkins (right hamstring) and Jones.

Coach Jason Garrett said he was ''hopeful'' McBriar and Jones would be available for Sunday's home game against Buffalo.

Rookie punter Chris Jones was signed off the practice squad for the Seattle game, averaging 43 yards on four punts.

Austin won't be back anytime soon, sidelined by the latest in a series of hamstring problems that have plagued him throughout his six-year career.

With Austin out, more will be expected from wide receivers Dez Bryant, Laurent Robinson and Kevin Ogletree. The Cowboys could also call up one of three receivers from their practice squad.

Murray's emergence has been a pleasant surprise for the Cowboys. A third-round pick from Oklahoma, Murray's development was hampered by the lockout, then he suffered another setback with a hamstring injury in training camp.

But Jones' injury created an opening for Murray, and he's taken advantage with 466 yards over his last three games.

''He runs really, really hard,'' Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said. ''Obviously we have seen those big runs he's had, but he turns 2- or 3-yard gains into nice 10-yard gains. He takes some big hits and he gets up. ... He's been a dynamic player for us. Our offense and really our team has been better and had success because of the way he plays.''

Witten wouldn't offer any opinion on which back deserves to start when Jones is healthy again. But the seven-time Pro Bowl selection did say the Cowboys will be even more potent on offense when both are available.

''The more of those types of players you can have, the better you are going to be,'' Witten said. ''We are going to have a great 1-2 punch when Felix gets healthy. It's going to put us in a great situation. Felix is the type of player who anytime he gets it, he can take 40, 50 yards on a normal run. But I think DeMarco gets his carries, for sure.''

With their 10-point victory over Seattle, the Cowboys bounced back from a 34-7 road thrashing at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles a week earlier. Even though Sunday's win came over a team that isn't a playoff contender, the Cowboys needed some positive reinforcement.

The Cowboys have a favorable upcoming schedule. After Sunday's meeting with Buffalo (5-3), they are at Washington (3-5), home against Miami (1-7) and at Arizona (2-6).

After that, the opponents get tougher: home and home against the division-leading New York Giants, at home against Philadelphia, and at Tampa Bay.

Garrett isn't making any predictions after a break-even first half of the season. That's not his style.

''We've done a lot of things to build on over the first eight games, a lot we can be positive about,'' Garrett said. ''We've played a lot of young players and they've stepped into roles and done a nice job. That's hard to do in the NFL. But we have to get better. The teams that win in this league, the teams that make the playoffs, are the teams that improve over the course of the season.''

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