Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray had his breakout performance of the season and took pressure off quarterback Tony Romo. Murray will try to establish a running theme when the NFC East-leading Cowboys visit the San Diego Chargers Sunday afternoon.
Murray averaged 55.5 yards over the first two games of the season and busted out for 175 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries in Sunday's 31-7 demolition of the St. Louis Rams. Murray had 20 carries in a Week 1 win over the New York Giants and it appears the Cowboys are in good hands when they feed him the ball regularly.
"If you give DeMarco holes, he can make great cuts and can take it all the way," Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee said. "He's a complete back, and so it was fun to see him break out a little bit."
Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said after Sunday's game that establishing the run was important because the line was able to get physical up front with the Rams and set the tone early. The ground attack, plus an efficient performance from Romo, allowed the Cowboys to take over the sloppy NFC East, which has two 0-3 teams in New York and Washington and 1-2 Philadelphia.
Dallas, which has led the entire way in two of the first three games of the season, allowed Romo to do just enough to pick apart the Rams. Romo was sacked only once and completed 17-of-24 passes for 210 yards and three TDs.
"We're as strong as we've been on the interior of our offensive line in about three years," Garrett said. "We've made some personnel moves to help make that happen. We've been healthier and I think that's helped make that happen. We're just a stronger team. I think you see that in our running game and you use that in our pass protection and that's been a real positive. So hopefully we can build on some of the things we did."
The Cowboys are facing a Chargers squad that has given up the second-most yards in the NFL at 470.7 ypg and can earn a commanding lead in the division by taking advantage of every opportunity. That would mean giving the ball to Murray, who faces a San Diego run defense that allows 130 ypg this season. Murray racked up 37 yards on his first four carries against the Rams.
"I just think in general we need to run the ball better, and he's the guy running it," Garrett said. "I think everybody needed that kind of game ... offensive linemen needed that kind of game, our offense in general ... and obviously he's the beneficiary of it as the guy with the ball in his hand."
San Diego's running game could use a boost because Ryan Mathews hasn't been getting the job done with a team-leading 164 yards on the season. That's less than what Murray ran for last week. Mathews, a lightning rod for injuries, had 58 yards on 16 carries and still hasn't found the end zone running the ball.
It's been a topsy-turvy season for the Chargers. They blew a significant lead to Houston in Week 1, then handed Philadelphia a loss on its home turf and dropped another heartbreaker Sunday versus Tennessee. Titans receiver Justin Hunter caught a 34-yard touchdown pass with 15 seconds left for a 20-17 win over the Chargers, whose three games have been decided by three points.
Penalties hurt San Diego on Sunday, as it was flagged 11 times for 116 yards.
"There were a lot of good things and that's what we stressed to the team," Chargers head coach Mike McCoy said. "We have to build off the good things, but really clean-up the mistakes as soon as possible. There are a lot of little details of things we are doing offensively, defensively and on special teams."