Dallas Cowboys: DeMarco Murray Can Be Replaced Same As DeMarcus Ware


The loss of All Pro running back DeMarco Murray has many observers fretting about the state of the Dallas Cowboys running game heading into 2015. It’s worth noting a year ago many of the same experts were panicked about a Cowboys defense missing departed Pro Bowl pass rushers DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher.

With the loss of top-end talent, the Cowboys were supposed to field the worst defense in NFL history. Now that the NFL’s reigning rushing champion is to be replaced by a passel of unproven backups and injury-prone retreads, predictions are dire for the Cowboys offense.

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The experts didn’t see it coming then, and they don’t see it coming now. The Dallas defense improved in 2014 because it relied on depth of talent instead of top-end talent. The same can be said of the team’s running backs in 2015, and they can have the same result.

No single pass rusher on last year’s vastly improved defense was as good as Ware, just as no one running back on this year’s team may be as good as Murray. But defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s formula of rotating eight quality defensive linemen – instead of leaning heavily on a few superstars – helped move the Dallas defense from last in the league in 2013 to 19th in the league in 2014.

Marinelli and head coach Jason Garrett know that most NFL games are one-score affairs. Most are won in the fourth quarter. Fresh leg finish the fight. That’s as true on the defensive line as it is in the offensive backfield.

The combination of Jeremy Mincey and rookie defensive end Demarcus Lawrence rotating snaps more than compensated for the loss of Ware come crunch time in December. The following graph shows Pro Football Focus game ratings for each of the three players in December and the playoffs last year:

Week 14-2.0-1.7DNP
Week 15-1.0-0.9-0.1
Week 16-0.60.3-0.1
Week 17-0.50.5-0.8

Ware did not have a positive rating in a game after November. Old legs. Mincey and Lawrence got stronger as the season progressed. Ware played 50+ snaps in three of his final five games. Between the two of them, Mincey and Lawrence played 50+ snaps only once in the final six games of the season. Ware had a cumulative -4.5 rating; Mincey and Lawrence combined for a +5.8 rating. Ware had zero sacks in December and the playoffs; Mincey and Lawrence combined for seven sacks in those games.

Fresh legs finish the fight. The Cowboys will test this theory again in 2015, but with a new position group. Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden, Ryan Williams, and Lance Dunbar are all vying for snaps. Undrafted rookie free agent Synjyn Days will compete for a roster spot. The Cowboys pro personnel department is beating the bushes daily for other talent to add to the fray.

The Cowboys running game in 2015 can be just as good, if not better than it was is 2014. The organizational culture of hard work, competition and accountability creates an atmosphere where every player can be the best versions of themselves every day, and Randle on his 18th snap can be every bit as productive as Murray on his 45th snap.

Every player competes for a roster spot. Every player competes to be active on game day. Every player competes for snaps. Every player competes to start. It’s in a culture such as this that depth is created. It’s in a culture such as this that the experts are routinely surprised by the production of journeymen and retreads.

In 2014 we learned that 25 snaps apiece from Mincey and Lawrence could be more productive than 50 snaps from a future Ring of Honor member. There’s no reason why 20 snaps apiece for Randle, McFadden and Dunbar can’t be just as productive as 60 snaps from the league’s reigning offensive player of the year.

If you can’t imagine any way the Cowboys running game can improve in 2015, think back to this time last year when you were certain the defense would be awful. And have a little faith in the process.

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