Mac Engel

Murray joins Romo in Cowboys’ can’t-live-without category

Start with the defense. Go ahead and throw in the quarterback in there, and certainly the offensive and defensive coordinators, too. These are among the many items most of us experts were wrong about with these Dallas Cowboys.

Tops among this list is the overall — knock on wood — health of the starting quarterback, and the idea that if Tony Romo goes down, so does The S.S. Jerry.

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There are now two players the Cowboys cannot live without — Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray. No good team is much count if their starting quarterback goes down, but the way Murray is playing he belongs in that category.

Murray, like Romo, took Wednesday off from practice. Murray, unlike Romo, has a stomach thing. Our daughter has it. Not picturesque.

We will always wince the next time Romo takes a big shot, and Murray now joins his quarterback in the exclusive “Please, Just Not Him” category.

The 2014 Dallas Cowboys are who they are because of Murray.

“DeMarco has not always been recognized for his talents,” Romo said Wednesday.

The irony is that, entering the season, the rap on Murray is that he gets hurt, banged up and to rely on him for 16 games was a reach. Murray missed a total of 11 games in his first three seasons, and missed at least two games in each of those years.

Much like Romo with his bad back, Murray’s track record suggests he is going to miss time. The Cowboys believe his injuries have been freak accidents, and not a pattern.

“He takes such good care of himself. He eats well. He trains hard,” Cowboys running backs coach Gary Brown said. “He takes care of his body at night. He gets his sleep. So when those little freak things happen, it’s very disappointing. But if we can avoid those, he can play 16 games, it’s going to be good for our team.”

The thought has been this offensive line is so good that Murray could go down and the drop-off to Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar or Ryan Williams would not be an off-the-cliff fall to mediocrity. As good as the line is, do not buy that the drop would not be large. Think a good drop not from Mount Everest, but Guadalupe Peak.

Considering the way Murray is running, he is in one of those special years where the term “next man up” should not be applied. The line is good enough that Randle could have a good season, but what Murray is doing is historic.

He is on pace to rush for 2,093 yards, which would be the third-highest single-season total in NFL history behind Eric Dickerson and Adrian Peterson. It would be the eighth time in NFL history a running back went over 2,000 yards.

Is it a coincidence Murray is doing this in a contract year? No, but … who cares?

He is 26, and in the prime of his career. Professionally, Murray will never be better. No backup can replace this type of production.

Some of his success is indeed because of his line, which is overpowering everybody. Left tackle Tyron Smith was named the NFC’s offensive player of the week for his performance in Seattle. The last time a lineman earned that award was 2004.

The majority of this success is because of Murray. He is exploiting the holes that are there, and the ones that are not. He is creating holes, falling forward, reversing field, running over defenders and closing out the hard yards.

The best running backs in the NFL have good lines, but when need be, he can go get the yards on his own.

“Those are the yards we need and get us across the hump,” Murray told the media horde on Wednesday. “You stick with it and hopefully it will pop.”

Through six games, things are popping for the Cowboys, largely because of Murray’s career season. From the looks of it, they would be good without him, but not like this.

Maybe Murray will continue this historic season, play all 16 games and the Cowboys will keep winning.

We’ve been wrong about everything else.

Follow Mac Engel on The Big Mac Blog at star-telegram.com/sports/.

This story was originally published October 15, 2014 7:16 PM.

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