When the Dallas Cowboys play the Detroit Lions in Week 8, they may or may not have DeMarco Murray on the field. The often-injured running back left his team’s Week 6 win over the Washington Redskins with a sprained knee and then missed Dallas’ Week 7 win over the Philadelphia Eagles because of the same injury. After practicing this week, it appears Murray will play against Detroit, which could be both a good and bad thing.
For starters, the Cowboys need Murray on the field to keep their offense balanced. Surprisingly, the team tried to run the ball more than expected in Murray’s absence via fifth-round draft pick Joseph Randle, but his ineffectiveness just meant more and more passes for Dallas. What else is new, right?
In a game against the pass-happy Lions, everyone knows there are going to be a ton of balls flying through the air and lots of points scored, but those are the types of games the Cowboys typically lose. In his career as Dallas’ starting quarterback, Tony Romo is 9-16 in games in which he throws 40 or more passes. On the flip side, the Cowboys are 10-0 when Murray carries the ball 20 or more times.
Now the dilemma is Murray’s fragility because the Cowboys could dominate the Lions by running the ball — Detroit is one of the worst teams in the NFL when it comes to stopping the run — but that would jeopardize Murray’s health, especially considering he came back from the injury faster than expected.
As mentioned, the Cowboys are basically committing football suicide when they get into those shootouts and the numbers over the past seven years prove it. Considering the Lions throw the ball more than 29 of the other 31 teams in the league, this game can and will turn into a fatal shootout if the Cowboys allow it. Running Murray the whole game would prevent that, but Dallas also can’t afford to rush him back from the injury because he’ll be desperately needed during the playoff stretch run.
Of course, the team will evaluate Murray right up until game time and hopefully monitor his status to prevent any sort of setback with the injury. However, the Cowboys would be wise to utilize speedster Lance Dunbar, who is also returning from injury this week, to keep Murray’s touches somewhat limited while also keeping the offensive pace diverse. Dunbar is the definition of a change-of-pace running back and he’s a perfect complement to Murray when both are healthy.
So in short, the Cowboys need to keep their offense balanced with Murray and Dunbar back on the field without putting either player’s health at risk. Tall order? Sure. Too tall for a team that calls itself a playoff contender? Not even close.