Instead, it’s the offensive line.
But I don’t wonder whether Murray will play. The Cowboys would not have gone through the trouble to practice him this week if they didn’t think he had a chance of playing. So, to me, he’s in.
I believe Martin will play after the enthusiasm he showed Friday following a workout after practice.
Free’s condition is a concern. His ankle has been troubling him for a while and he finally couldn’t go in the second half last week. He missed three games earlier this season with a broken foot. If Free can’t go, Jermey Parnell will start at right tackle. The question is could Free be active as the swing tackle. That makes some sense, but if he can’t go then Tony Hills would take that role vs. the Colts.
With Josh Brent out for his second straight game with a calf injury, there is no decision to be made on the defensive line this week.
So here’s the guess at the inactives: quarterback Dustin Vaughan, Free, tackle Donald Hawkins, defensive end Kenneth Boatright, Brent, linebacker Dekoda Watson and safety Jakar Hamilton.
"I have to do the right thing for myself, the right thing for the team," Murray told ESPN.
Murray's teammates are confident that he will play, and owner Jerry Jones said Friday that things were trending in a positive direction.
The NFL's leading rusher, Murray is officially listed as questionable on the injury report, and all involved agree that he will make the ultimate decision about whether to play a week after suffering a fracture in his left hand against the Eagles and undergoing surgery the following day.
A protective plate and eight screws were inserted to facilitate healing and promote the quickest possible return to the field.
Murray has practiced wearing a glove he routinely wears but equipped with protective padding. Murray said he was involved in some contact in practice to allow him a sense of whether he could protect the ball, but acknowledged that is far different than playing in a game.
Murray's five lost fumbles are the most in the league among non-quarterbacks, but he has not fumbled in his past six games.
Murray said his decision will be based on pain tolerance and whether he is comfortable doing everything required of a running back.
In it we discuss:
- The risk if DeMarco Murray plays
- The best defensive player
- Keeping Scott Linehan
- Jerry Jones’ hesitancy
- Keeping Morris Claiborne
If you want to see Part 1, click here.
Away we go:
@toddarcher: If you're talking right now, like this weekend, then I think I'd probably go with Orlando Scandrick. He's had a good run here the last few weeks. Barry Church has been pretty good, too. If you're talking about the full season, then I'd go with Rolando McClain. He's been a difference-maker for this defense. He's made a ton of plays. He's banged-up now with a sore knee and is not moving as well, so that's why for "right now," I would say Scandrick. But there is another guy to consider: Tyrone Crawford. He has been extremely active and productive and found a home at the three technique. He would be a guy that should get some consideration, too.
You can make a case for a couple of guys but who is the best player on defense right now? I say Church or Scandrick. #cowboysmail— Nolan (@Nolan_Fowler22) December 17, 2014
Dez Bryant. He has a young, talented offensive line. The pieces are in place to be successful for a long time ... and by a long time, I think three more years. That's long in the NFL. Maybe that changes some if they don't re-sign Murray, but I still think they would be a top offense without him.
Morris Claiborne. He has not done enough to justify that kind of money in 2016. But if he does return from this serious knee injury and do something he hasn't done in his first three seasons, then the Cowboys would have every chance to sign him to a new deal. There is no rule that would prevent that. But I do think it is wishful thinking at this point. Claiborne is a good guy. He does mean well. But for whatever reason, things have just not clicked. When the Cowboys made the trade for him, everybody thought they were getting a playmaker at corner.
- Will DeMarco Murray play with a broken hand that was fixed by surgery Monday? On Thursday he sounded like a guy expecting to play. Given the circumstances of the game, the Cowboys expect him to play too.
- Players play through a lot of injuries. But why?
- Maybe you have heard the Cowboys have struggled at home this year. They need to fix that Sunday. And Jerry Jones offered up an interesting comment.
- Every team has a next-man-up philosophy. The Cowboys might need that Sunday whether Murray plays or not.
- In determining whether to play, Murray spoke briefly with Emmitt Smith but also reached out to Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy.
- The Cowboys need more from Henry Melton.
- The season has been a struggle for Brandon Carr, but Jerry Jones has his back.
- Forgive me for not knowing much about A. Salam Qureishi before this video. Great history here.
- Jean-Jacques Taylor brings you this week's edition of The Boys.
- Colts reporter Mike Wells and I bring you this week's Game Preview.
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Friday morning that he was "pretty positive" Murray, who had surgery Monday to repair a broken left hand, would play Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. Murray, the NFL's leading rusher, actually held the ball at times in his left hand during the brief portion of practice open to the media.
On Thursday, Murray said the final decision to play would be his, and coach Jason Garrett agreed to an extent.
"He knows how he feels more than anybody else," Garrett said. "It's our job as coaches and the medical staff to evaluate him and see if he's functional. If we see things that don't add up to what he's saying about how he's feeling, we'll certainly have that communication. But he's the one that knows about himself more than anybody, and we trust his feedback. He's a veteran player. He knows what it takes to play in a game."
Murray and the Cowboys won't know until Sunday if he can withstand the pain of getting hit over and over on carries. Murray carries the ball predominantly in his right hand, but he does deliver stiff arms and break his fall at times with his left hand. He would also have to pass protect.
He is wearing a hard plastic shell on the top of his glove for added protection. It is possible he could take pain medicine before kickoff to get through the game.
"You try your best to make your best educated guess," Garrett said.
Martin suffered the injury in last week’s win against the Philadelphia Eagles. While he was able to finish the game with a hefty tape job over his cleat, he was limping badly after the game. That he was able to continue gave him hope he would be able to play against the Colts.
Now he needs to show he can play without practice, though that is something he did while at Notre Dame.
“I just tried to take as many mental reps this week and get ready that way and stay in the film,” Martin said.
The news on right tackle Doug Free is not as hopeful, but there's a remote chance he is active as the backup tackle on Sunday. If he can’t dress for the game, then Jermey Parnell would start. Free did not practice this week because of an ankle injury.
The focus was on Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, J.J. Watt and, yes, Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray.
Packers NFL Nation reporter Rob Demovsky gave this assessment of Murray’s chances:
He absolutely should be on the list, and around the midseason point he probably was considered one of the front runners. That has waned a little since then. Running backs are underappreciated in the league today, but he's truly special regardless of whether he's playing now or whether he played when MVP runners such as Thurman Thomas, Emmitt Smith and Terrell Davis were in the game.
Murray is fighting history a bit and the fact that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league.
Even with Murray expected to play Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts less than a week after undergoing hand surgery, he just can’t be the same runner, can he? Will the Cowboys give him the ball 30 times? I can’t see it happening.
So, to me, that puts more on Romo and will help his MVP case if the Cowboys beat the Colts. If Romo delivers wins and big performances in the final two games, he has to insert himself into the conversation. The preseason expectations for the Cowboys were as low as they have been since the early 2000s when they were putting up three straight 5-11 records. Romo's numbers are terrific, but it is not just the stats. It's how he is doing it and when he is doing it.
On Thursday, owner and general manager Jerry Jones was asked if this has been Romo’s best season. He didn’t want to go there. Yet.
“I don’t want to say that, because we’re not through,” Jones said. “But it has the potential to be his best season. I guess the factor that would impact the most in my mind would be if we do have the kind of season that we’re all dreaming about here, then it would be his best. Of course, he’s played well at the position. He’s played well as a quarterback, all of his percentages are certainly qualified to be one of his best. The way he’s doing it is really getting, and should get, a lot of weight as to comparing his seasons. But we’d all say let’s see how many wins we’ve got, and let’s see what the wins get for us.”
Speaking on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Friday, Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said he is “pretty positive,” Murray and Martin will play Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. The Cowboys are not as sure about Free.
Murray is attempting to play with a broken hand that was surgically repaired on Monday. Free and Martin have ankle injuries. Coach Jason Garrett said there are no hard and fast rules as to whether Martin, a rookie, has to practice in order to play.
As for Murray, Garrett said the running back “looked good,” in Thursday’s practice in which he took limited team snaps but he wasn’t ready to commit to Murray playing against the Colts.
“He hasn’t done much with the ball in his left hand,” Coach Garrett said, “He’s just trying to work his way back. He had surgery a couple of days ago. I think his mind is right, but he has a long way to go. We’ll take it day by day and see how he is come game time.”
Defensive tackle Josh Brent (calf) and linebacker Dekoda Watson (hamstring) are not practicing and will likely miss Sunday’s game. Backup quarterback Brandon Weeden is missing practice for personal reasons.
As palatial as the stadium is, the Cowboys have been incredibly ineffective there.
Tony Romo has a career-best 80.2 QBR, but in his last two home outings he has a 17 Total QBR and the Cowboys lost both games.
Romo has been aided by the running game, but that could be challenged this week with the status of DeMarco Murray. While the expectation is that Murray will play despite breaking his hand last week, the injury will have to affect him some. So too could a re-configured offensive line with right tackle Doug Free and right guard Zack Martin hobbled by ankle injuries. Martin is expected to play, like Murray, but he will be at less than full strength.
The Cowboys still believe they can be carried by the running game without a fully healthy Murray and line. The Indianapolis Colts' defense has playmakers, but the Cowboys' confidence has never been higher than after what they did last week at Philadelphia. Not even a home-field disadvantage can stop them Sunday.
My prediction: Cowboys 30, Colts 24
But that stadium just might be third.
And Jones can’t wait to show it off again Sunday when the Indianapolis Colts (10-4) come to town.
Despite its opulence, the Cowboys have not had a home-field edge in the $1.2 billion stadium. They are just 3-4 and score almost two fewer touchdowns a game than they do on the road. The Cowboys have lost three straight at home, entering Sunday’s game.
They have not won there since Oct. 19 when they beat the New York Giants.
"To have this game right now for our home fans, and obviously the caliber of competition Indianapolis is, this is a serious, meaningful (game) for our franchise, meaningful for the last few years, meaningful for what we can do this year," Jones said. "So, it’s what I built the stadium for."
“It kind of stung for a minute, then went away,” the Dallas Cowboys running back said. “I kind of went over to the sideline and felt a little clicking and asked [head athletic trainer Jim Maurer] about it and he kind of knew right away what happened.”
That clicking Murray felt was a broken fourth metacarpal, the long bone that runs across the top of his hand. On Monday night Murray had surgery on his hand that included a plate and eight screws. On Sunday he expects to play against the Indianapolis Colts.
“People deal with injuries all the time, so you’ve got to be able to fight through the pain,” Murray said.
Tony Romo played with two transverse process fractures in his back and has required pain-killing injections or pills to work through that and torn rib cartilage. Jason Witten played the 2012 season opener with a partially torn spleen. Dez Bryant passed on season-ending surgery for a broken finger late in 2012. Two games later, he caught nine passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns. Orlando Scandrick played with a finger so shattered that reconstructive surgery did not fix it.
“It’s stuck,” Scandrick said. “It never got back. I mean it was just something [that] over time I learned how to deal with it.”
Other Cowboys have played through injuries not even known or talked about. They will wait until after the season to have surgeries on shoulders or knees that are cranky but not so bad – in their minds, anyway – to knock them out of a game.
Why do they do what they do? What is the pull of the game? What is it about that rush from that opening kick that keeps them doing what they do?
“I mean, your focus is so on the short term and now the adrenaline that goes along with it,” Witten said. “I’m the player rep, so I've got to be careful with what I say, but, yeah, this is awesome man, to be in this opportunity and a lot of us waited a long time to get here. 'Whatever it takes' is a good mindset to have. It’s just you put all this work to get to this moment in December to be in the hunt and here you are. I think you want to give yourself every chance to play.”
Romo missed just one game with his back fractures. Standing at a podium after practice in London last month, he talked about why he wanted to play so badly.
“I’m a football player; this is what I do for my life's work,” Romo said then. “It's important to me. I care about playing and competing and helping this football team win … You're only afforded so many opportunities at that, so you want to take advantage of that when you have that opportunity. If you love the game, you'll always try and get on the field.”
There is a healthy selfishness to why they play through injury. Their careers are short. There is something about being there for your teammates even when you are not at your best that brings a loyalty not seen in other walks of life. When players retire, the first thing they mention they miss most is the camaraderie -- not the game and not necessarily even the money.
Before the word ‘regret’ can be finished, Scandrick says no.
“My job is on the line every day,” Scandrick said. “The job of the scouts and people around here is to find someone better than me, that’s cheaper than me.”
Chicago Bears safety Chris Conte said earlier this week he would rather experience the NFL even if it cuts short his life span. He later clarified that his comments were not related to concussions.
“Just the associated risk with football and accepting the fact that life expectancy of someone who has played in the NFL is shorter than the average person," he told ESPNChicago.com. "And I'm fine with trading that risk for the opportunity to play football since it's something I have always wanted to do and a dream come true.”
There is a line players won’t cross: head injuries.
“I’m not messing with my head,” Scandrick said. “I got kids.”
But they’ll risk just about anything else. The pain might not last forever, thanks to modern medicine, but the memories will.
The Cowboys are 10-4 and in first place in the NFC East. If they win two more games, they guarantee themselves a playoff spot for the first time since 2009. There are only so many times a player has to achieve Super Bowl glory.
That’s why Murray wants to play less than a week having surgery and why the others play through pain.
“I love playing,” Witten said. “And I love playing with the guys you’re in the locker room with. Just an awesome deal that we have this opportunity. There’s a sign out there that says it’s a privilege, not a right, to play and coach for the Dallas Cowboys. I think that’s the way kinda this team has gone about it since April, when nobody thought we could do anything.”
In it we discuss:
- Joseph Randle carrying the load
- Dez Bryant chasing a record
- Pressuring Andrew Luck
- The 2014 draft class
- Timing of free agent deals
Away we go:
DeMarco Murray is at this point of the season, but I think he would have more than 1,000 yards by now. I might have just wasted a lot of breath, however, because I believe Murray plays Sunday even with his broken hand. It's just a gut feeling. Do I expect 20-25 carries from Murray? No. I think you'll see a closer split between him and Randle this week.
@toddarcher: I think he gets it, yes. And it would be incredibly impressive because of how much the Cowboys have run the ball this season. Tony Romo is averaging 29 passing attempts a game. He averaged 36 attempts in 15 games last season. Terrell Owens set the team record with 15 in 2007 after Frank Clarke (14) held it for 45 years. With Murray banged up, the Cowboys could look to Bryant more, and he is already a feature in the tight red zone. Just as Bryant wanted some redemption against the Philadelphia Eagles, I think he will want even more in the season finale against the Washington Redskins. They held him to three catches for 30 yards in the first meeting.
Dez has 13 TD. He is 2 TD away from tying cowboys season record of 15 & 3 away from breaking it. Do u think he break the record #cowboysmail— Malcom M. (@cowboys_flyhigh) December 17, 2014
DeMarcus Lawrence missed the first eight games because of a broken foot in training camp. He's played just five games this year. I think his season was set back because of injury but if you listen to the coaches they've been pleased with what he's done even if he doesn't have a sack. Five of the Cowboys 10 picks came in the seventh round, so you're not going to see a ton of production from those guys. Devin Street, their fifth rounder, has been active every game, but he is not going to get a lot of passes thrown his way with how the offense is constructed. Zack Martin has been one of the best rookies in football. Anthony Hitchens has done well in a myriad of roles. Those two picks have worked out. There needs to be some patience with Lawrence. Overall, the class has been fine. It would be better in the future if they get something from seventh-round defensive linemen Ben Gardner, who is on injured reserve, and Ken Bishop, who is on the practice squad.
Rolando McClain and Bryant in January, depending on how long the season goes. They tend to use sites like the Senior Bowl and Combine to talk to agents. Now just because they're talking doesn't mean a deal will be quick. When players get this close to free agency oftentimes they want to see what the market will provide for them so getting a contract done is a little more difficult. I agree with you on the franchise tag for Bryant and I've been saying that since the summer. The cases of Murray and McClain are slightly unique because there has to be some caution about overpaying either player for different reasons. Normally these things go to the wire before free agency begins. If something gets done, I would guess it would be in that witching hour.
“It’s one of those in the heat-of-the-moment type things,” Carr said. “My mentality, my personality I have is to kind of go after the ball. I just didn’t come up with it. But at the same time I’m not going to turn off my aggression and turn off how I play. I’m going to keep playing the same way for the last two games the way I play.”
In the win two weeks ago against the Chicago Bears, Carr gave up a 27-yard touchdown to Alshon Jeffery, although the Bears’ receiver clearly tugged on Carr’s jersey. Those are the sorts of things that happen to a cornerback that is in a slump.
Carr is still looking for his first interception of the season. Jason Garrett prefers to look at Carr’s overall games and not the big plays allowed. While he can’t dismiss the bad plays, Garrett believes Carr is doing more than many realize.
So does defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and owner and general manager Jerry Jones.
The Cowboys signed Carr to a five-year, $50 million deal as a free agent three years ago. The investment has not paid off the way the Cowboys and Jones envisioned, but Jones isn’t displeased either.
“Oh I think that one of the things that create a challenge for him is it’s like the same one that a No. 1 draft pick has,” Jones said. “The expectation of what he’s supposed to bring to the table is one that is really very difficult to meet. Now has he played at a Pro Bowl level? No, he has not. And therein lies the issue. The expectation is that he would play at a Pro Bowl level. He obviously started off behind the eight-ball this year with the loss of his mother, time lost, but he’s come back in and I’m not as hard on him as possibly it looks like we should be or others are because I know that he does give us a skill level and a size component back there that is very important to us right now.
“I’m glad we got him. I’m glad I‘m paying him. Like everybody you’d like to have your deal squared up more to the value of where it is but that’s just part of this. And he’s very capable. He plays the ball well. One of his skills is how well he plays the ball, and let’s hope that he makes that interception at [a] time that [will] down in history for the Dallas Cowboys.”
The Dallas Cowboys will host the Indianapolis Colts for the first time at AT&T Stadium on Sunday. While both teams are 10-4, their postseason plans are completely different.
The Colts have already clinched a playoff spot by winning the AFC South. The Cowboys lead the NFC East, but any slip-up in the final two games could not only cost them the division but a playoff spot altogether.
ESPN Colts reporter Mike Wells and Cowboys reporter Todd Archer offer up this week's preview:
Todd Archer: This is the first time the Cowboys will see Andrew Luck in person. His numbers are impressive, obviously, but it seems a little disconcerting to see him with 14 interceptions, up there with Jay Cutler, Blake Bortles and Andy Dalton. Is there any explanation for the high number of picks, besides the fact that they throw it a lot?
Mike Wells: I'll add on to Luck's turnover problems. He's also lost six fumbles, putting him second in the league in that category, behind only the now-benched Cutler. One of Luck's strongest attributes -- his competitiveness -- is also one of his biggest downfalls. He doesn't believe in giving up on a play. Rather than take a sack or throw the ball away, he believes he can extend a play with his legs or fit a tight throw in. Crazy part is, Luck should have more than 14 interceptions this season. There have been several throws on which the defensive player just dropped the pass. Luck knows he can't continue to make the "bonehead" -- as he calls them -- mistakes.
DeMarco Murray's status for Sunday appears to be uncertain. Let's assume he doesn't play. How much would Dallas' offensive scheme change without him in the lineup?
Archer: I don't think it would change that much. The Cowboys' identity has been the running game and the offensive line. I do believe they have faith in backups Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar. To me, Randle would get the bulk of the carries if Murray can't go. Even if Murray does play, I would think the Cowboys would monitor his snaps anyway, considering he had surgery on Monday. The Cowboys just can't abandon the run. The run has made Tony Romo a better quarterback. He has been able to take advantage of coverages teams play because the defense has to commit to stopping the run. Romo has thrown more than 30 passes in a game this season just three times. It would surprise me if he is over that number this week if the game is not out of whack with the Colts leading big.
I mentioned how the Colts throw it a ton, but how has the running game changed with Daniel Herron becoming more of a fixture than Trent Richardson?
Wells: The Colts don't have a running game. If they rush for more than 100 yards as a team, Luck usually has contributed a significant portion of those yards. Things drastically changed for the Colts once Ahmad Bradshaw was lost for the season with a fractured fibula on Nov. 16. Now, they lack consistency in the backfield. Herron is a better runner than Richardson -- he's outrushed Richardson in three of the four games he's played -- but Richardson is a better pass-blocker, and that's what the Colts need more because the offensive line continues to be inconsistent. If the Colts are going to make a run in the playoffs, they'll have to do it with Luck's arm.
Sticking with the running game, how much credit for Murray's success goes to the offensive line? The O-line is the group on most teams that rarely gets praised but is quick to get criticized when they can't open holes or protect the quarterback.
Archer: I think a lot of the credit goes to the line and line coaches Bill Callahan and Frank Pollack. It’s helped by the fact that they have three first-rounders among the group in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin, but Ronald Leary and Doug Free have also played well. They have a good blend of power and smarts. They help each other out. They're smart. They have had really just one bad game as a group. But this week will be a test because of injuries. Free is in question because of an ankle injury. If he can't play, then Jermey Parnell would start. He did OK when Free missed three games earlier in the season. Martin is also dealing with an ankle sprain, but he was able to gut it out to finish the Philadelphia game. I talked earlier about the Cowboys' willingness to run the ball this year. Well, now they have to step up even more if Murray can’t play (or is limited).
The Colts are 10-4 and have clinched a playoff spot. They have a great quarterback, top receiver and a decent enough passing game, but I'm skeptical about just how good they are in part because they play in a terrible division. So, I guess, how good are these Colts? Can they beat New England or Denver in the AFC and get to the Super Bowl?
Wells: Don't worry about it. I'm just as skeptical of the Colts. They’re 11-0 in the AFC South the past two seasons, with another win expected at Tennessee to close out the season. But everybody knows the AFC South is possibly the worst division in the league. The Colts are currently 2-3 against teams that would be in the playoffs if they started today. Their three losses were to Denver, New England and Pittsburgh. The Patriots ran for more than 200 yards against them, and the Steelers had more than 600 yards of total offense. The Colts have had this game against the Cowboys circled on the calendar since the Patriots embarrassed them last month. Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said Dallas is the most balanced offensive team they'll face this season. The Colts need this victory, from a mental standpoint, to prove they can beat a team that is capable of putting up a lot of points.
I recall talking to you earlier this season, and it didn't seem like you were a firm believer in the Cowboys. Have you changed your thought, and, if so, do you believe they're capable of making a run in the NFC?
Archer: I guess it depends on how you want to define "making a run." They haven't qualified for the playoffs yet, and a loss Sunday would be a huge blow to those chances. But I'll go with the premise that they make it for this answer. I think they can make a run because of their style of play. Plus, they’re 7-0 on the road this season. It might be better to be the wild card, but the odds of making it as a wild card are steep because it would require Seattle or Detroit to lose in the final two weeks. I have been skeptical this season. I don't know how anybody could have expected this from the Cowboys at the beginning of the season. Heck, Jerry Jones even said it would be an uphill battle. The coaches and players deserve a ton of credit for getting to this position. Now that they are this close, they can't blow it. They have to make the playoffs. I look around at the rest of the NFC and there is a "why not the Cowboys?" feeling. They already beat the Seahawks in Seattle. The Packers just lost to Buffalo. I don't see a dominant team in the conference, so, yeah, they could make a run. But first, they have to get in the playoffs.