On Friday, Murray acknowledged it would be a special feeling to break Smith’s record but he deflected the attention away from himself.
He needs 29 yards in Sunday’s season finale to surpass Smith’s 1,773-yard season of 1995.
Murray leads the NFL with 1,745 yards on a career-high 373 carries. He also has 12 rushing touchdowns.
Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, attended last week’s game against the Indianapolis Colts in part to see Murray break the record. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said Smith is rooting for Murray to break the mark.
“Obviously he’s the best running back to play in the league and records are meant to be broken,” Murray said. “And I’m sure this one will be broken sometime soon, whoever else comes along. That’s what they’re for and you’ve got to cherish the moment and move on and really know what’s important and that’s obviously winning games.”
Perhaps the most gratifying part of Murray’s season has been the ability to be on the field. He missed 11 games in his first three years with ankle, foot and knee injuries. Last week against the Colts, he played six days after undergoing surgery to repair a broken left hand.
“I don’t think it was (playing in 16 games), it was just the fact that I knew I could play,” said Murray, who was voted to his second Pro Bowl on Tuesday. “I wasn’t going to let a hand take me out of the game no matter what. No matter what I knew I had to grind through it and tough it out some way, somehow to stay on the field.”
Murray said he feels fresh and healthy despite the added work and the injured hand. He also knows how important he is to the offense's success.
“I feel that I give us a good chance to do some pretty good things when I’m on the field that I kind of give us a complete run game, and help on the outside, and give (Dez Bryant) a lot of one-on-one matchups along with (Jason Witten), so we’ve all been healthy this year offensively,” Murray said. “That’s been huge for us and we’ve all been able to play well and make some plays running the ball, passing the ball, things like that. So I love playing football and love being on the field and happy I’m here.”
Murray returned to practice on Friday and is listed as probable for Sunday.
“I’m feeling better, feeling a lot better,” Murray said. “The trainers took care of me.”
Murray said he will take fluids intravenously before the game, which is something many players do but not something he has done in the past. He will continue to drink a lot of water the night before the game. Earlier this season he explained to CBS' Jim Nantz and Phil Simms that he gains 10 pounds in the 24 hours leading up to kickoff for added strength.
“It’s just something I read about and something that makes me fresh,” Murray said. “During practice and during a game I don’t like to drink a lot of water anyway, so I stay hydrated that day and leading up the night before. It just makes my body feel fresher, makes me feel more limber and just good for you.”
Murray said his surgically-repaired left hand is still sore but feeling better. He will continue to wear the hard plastic shell on top of his hand for added protection.
“Obviously the extra padding is different for me,” Murray said. “Hopefully after this game I’ll be able to downside a little bit to something different and be able to use my hand a little bit better.”
Linebacker Bruce Carter was added to the injury report on Friday with a knee injury. He was limited in practice, but is listed as probable for Sunday. Defensive tackle Josh Brent (calf), linebacker Rolando McClain (knee), guard Zack Martin (ankle), safety Jeff Heath (thumb) and quarterback Tony Romo (back) are also probable.
Right tackle Doug Free missed his sixth straight day of practice and is listed as doubtful with an ankle injury. Coach Jason Garrett said Free has made progress. He was doing some treadmill work on the zero-gravity machine on Friday.
Linebacker Dekoda Watson will miss his sixth straight game with a hamstring injury.
In eight games, against Washington with Haslett running the defense, Bryant has caught only 39 passes for 542 passes and five touchdowns. He has one 100-yard game, which was kind of fluky because he scored an 85-yard touchdown on a broken play.
In the other seven games, Bryant has caught more than four passes once and doesn’t have a game with more than 73 yards receiving.
It’ll be interesting to see what he does in this game because Bryant, like a lot of players on this team, is playing his best football right now.
Since catching only two of 10 passes directed toward him for 15 yards in a 28-17 loss to Arizona, Bryant has caught 34 passes for 586 yards and eight touchdowns. He has 11 catches of more than 20 yards during that span.
Where Bryant has made considerable improvement is with his mentality during the game. Like all receivers, he gets frustrated when the ball doesn’t come his way, but he trusts Tony Romo and play-caller Scott Linehan to get him the ball so he doesn’t pout nearly as much as he did in other years.
“Dez is an emotional guy. He’s a passionate guy. He loves football,” Garrett said. “He loves this team. He wants to contribute to this team in every way possible. Emotion is good. It’s line one in life and it’s line one in football.”
Bryant also knows that when teams double-cover him, it gives receivers Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley and Dwayne Harris opportunities to make plays.
Sooner or later, Bryant knows the ball is coming his way. The Cowboys have thrown 144 fewer passes and have 69 fewer completions than last season, but Bryant’s stats are nearly identical.
In 2013, Bryant caught 93 passes for 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns. This season, he has 84 receptions for 1,221 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“Dez has been getting people’s attention for a long time.” Linehan said. “He’s had a great career so far, and he’ll continue to get better and better because he works hard to improve each season and each game.
“I’ve been blessed to be around some great receivers and how they handle the attention they get. He’s earned the attention he’s getting.”
The question is whether Linehan can find a way this week to make him more productive against Haslett’s scheme.
Griffin was a full participant in practice Friday, two days after he was limited because of soreness in his throwing shoulder. The Redskins did not practice Thursday.
Redskins coach Jay Gruden said they had planned to remove Griffin in Friday's practice if he felt any soreness. But that never happened. Gruden also said they'd re-evaluate Griffin Saturday morning just to make sure his shoulder is OK.
"The big thing is we wanted to make sure he didn't have a lot of pain when he threw and he didn't," Gruden said. "He looked good, made all the throws... We feel very confident he will be OK."
He runs the risk of somebody getting hurt, but it’s something he feels he has to do.
The Cowboys have been the NFL’s best road team. They are the only unbeaten team away from home and with a win they would have the franchise’s second perfect road record in history. The 1968 Cowboys went 7-0.
Since the 1970 merger, seven teams have posted perfect road records. Six of the seven made it to the Super Bowl.
In order to be the eighth team to go undefeated away from home, the Cowboys will have to fare well on third down.
In the first meeting the Cowboys converted on just 5 of 12 chances, which was a season low up until that point and kicked off a five-week spell in which they didn’t convert at least half their opportunities. Jim Haslett always gives the Cowboys fits and the Redskins would like nothing more than to sweep their NFC East rivals.
It just won’t happen. There is too much for the Cowboys to play for whether they get a first-round bye or not.
My prediction: Cowboys 31, Redskins 17
Murray will play his second game since breaking his left hand Sunday against the Washington Redskins. He will continue to wear the hard plastic shell on the top of his hand for added protection. The stitches from the Dec. 15 surgery have yet to be removed.
“I got it from the man last weekend, he’s rooting for him,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas. “I’m talking about Emmitt Smith. He’s rooting for DeMarco. (He) actually came to the game in hopes he might go down there and congratulate him should he have broken it then. I know he’s at peace with it. We are so proud of what that means for the entire offensive unit and certainly the offensive line. We’re all well aware of it and it would e important if we can go up there and get that done.”
The only players missing practice are Doug Free (ankle) and Dekoda Watson (hamstring). The Cowboys hope that both will be available for the playoffs.
Free is dealing with a bone spur in his left ankle as well as a stress fracture. He has missed five games with a broken right foot and left ankle issues.
“He needs to be healthy before he can come back and Doug works very hard, but his injury requires a little bit of time,” coach Jason Garrett said. “So we’ve given him that. Obviously didn’t play last week. Jermey Parnell did a nice job in his absence, but we like Doug Free and we’re trying to get him back as quickly as he can. He has made progress this week.”
He was disruptive against the run, and he pressured Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck multiple times. Actually, it was his third-quarter hit on Luck that persuaded Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano to remove his from the game.
“He was just around the quarterback the whole games. He pushed the pocket and I think we saw some of his signature moves, where he’s elusive and hard to block.”
Spencer missed much of last season and training camp after having microfracture surgery. His increased activity against Indianapolis is a great sign for the Cowboys.
The Cowboys’ sack total has ranked near the bottom of the NFL all season. Defensive linemen Jeremy Mincey and Henry Melton are tied for the team lead with five sacks, but Spencer is the only player on the roster with a double-digit sack total in his career.
Spencer had 11 in 2012. He has only a half sack to his name this year, but like a lot of players on this team, Spencer seems to be playing his best football as the playoffs are about to begin.
In it we discuss:
- Playoff expectations
- The franchise tag and Dez Bryant
- To play or to rest
- The most underrated Cowboy
- Anthony Hitchens
Away we go:
Anthony Spencer. If Bryant pouts or sits out in some sort of protest, that's not going to help him. Is he not going to play football in 2015?
Orlando Scandrick might be underrated elsewhere but I know the Cowboys and fans understand how important he is. Hitchens has started at all three linebacker spots this season, which is an impressive feat for a rookie. I don't believe Doug Free gets his due around here. He would be a good choice. I believe James Hanna is another overlooked player. He has played a big part in the rushing success this year with his blocking. Nobody really talks about him. I will go the cop-out route and give it to Hitchens and Hanna and I know you guys will have other answers.
Sean Lee is coming back from knee surgery. The Cowboys would like to keep Rolando McClain. They could keep Justin Durant as well. At the very least Hitchens gives the Cowboys a solid backup at all three spots and considering the injury history of the three players mentioned, he would still see a ton of playing time.
Well, the Cowboys are 11-4 this season and have already clinched the NFC East title, in part because they’ve reduced the number of big plays they’ve allowed.
In 2013, they allowed 71 passes of 20 yards or more, which happened to be 20 more than the league average of 51. This season, the Cowboys have yielded only 51 plays of 20 yards or more.
“Big plays are certainly a point of emphasis for us, and coming out of last year it was, maybe, the most important emphasis for our defensive team,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. “Making big plays and preventing big plays are the things that win and lose games each week. That and turnovers.”
The Cowboys are 3-0 in December, which has coincided with them giving up fewer big plays than usual. They allowed only two against Indianapolis last week and three the week before against Philadelphia.
Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will take that every week.
The reduction in big plays is the biggest indication the Cowboys are playing Marinelli’s Tampa 2 defensive scheme much better than they did last season. The scheme is designed to keep the safeties deep so the defense doesn’t allow long gains.
It’s difficult for offenses to consistently have 10-play scoring drives because of their own mistakes or good plays from the defense. Examine virtually every scoring drive -- for and against the Cowboys this season -- and you’ll usually find a play of 20 yards or more within the drive.
The Cowboys made some subtle changes to their scheme under Marinelli during the offseason to make it even simpler, and they’re constantly moving players around to make sure they’re in the best possible position to take advantage of their skill set.
The Cowboys have also continued to churn their roster in a never-ending search for better players. Make the 53rd player better, and the team becomes just a little better.
Good tackling has also continued to be a point of emphasis, which is not easy to do with a limited number of padded practices each season. Still, the Cowboys work on tackling drills every day in practice.
“The best defenses tackle well in the run game and in the passing game,” Garrett said. “If it’s a 12-yard gain, then it's a 12-yard gain. You don’t want 12-yard gains becoming 60-yard touchdowns.”
- DeMarco Murray runs with good vision. I’m a big fan of the Dallas offensive line and it’s hard not to be given how they play (three Pro Bowlers). Right guard Zack Martin will receive consideration for offensive rookie of the year because of how well he plays. He works well to the linebackers. Murray runs behind a good line that allows him to run for a lot of yards. But Murray helps out by running with good vision. Time and again he’ll allow blocks to set up and then use his vision to make a cut. It’s not as if every time he gets a lot of yards, but that style enables him to be an effective runner -- and behind this line that has turned him into the NFL’s leading rusher. Murray runs with trust, knowing his line will create openings. Dallas’ other backs can help, but they do not run with the same vision as Murray.
- Dallas' defense isn’t complex. It’s hard to believe how Dallas’ defense has played this season statistically. The Cowboys rank 16th in total yards and 16th in points allowed. Of course, they also have an offense that scores a lot and leads the NFL in time of possession per game (33 minutes on the nose). That matters quite a bit. Other metrics aren’t so good for the Cowboys: They allow 5.79 yards per play and they’re 28th on third downs (44.3 percent). They’re also 30th in red zone defense. But they’re tied for fifth in creating turnovers with 27. It’s not the most talented bunch and they leave gaps in the run game with their penetration; that’s one reason the Redskins feel they can always run on them with their outside zone. They don’t do a whole lot to fool teams, not as much as others at least. They will stunt with their linemen and occasionally with seven on the line (saw a safety and linebacker stunt through the middle).[+] EnlargeRonald Martinez/Getty ImagesDeMarco Murray is a patient runner who allows his blocks to set up and then uses his vision to make a cut.
- Tony Romo continues to play at a high level. It really helps that Dallas is committed to the run game and they don’t abandon it after a few bad run plays. But it also helps that Romo not only has the NFL’s best passer rating overall (114.4), but also on third downs (121.6). So they can stick with the run in part because Romo can handle things if they don’t or if they’re in third-and-long. (He has a 91.5 rating on third-and-10 or more.) His line helps give him time, especially left tackle Tyron Smith, who is an exceptional pass-blocker with excellent balance and is a terrific athlete. The Redskins showed in the first meeting this group can be susceptible to stunts and left guard Ronald Leary is only OK. Washington timed its looks well, waiting until after Romo made his protection adjustments (which occurred after the center did the same). The Redskins also played Dallas’ wideouts well, being physical (especially Bashaud Breeland, who knew Dez Bryant's moves well). But while the run game receives the attention and allows them to control the clock it’s Romo who makes the Cowboys explosive. He can throw with a lot of trust to Bryant on the outside and the offense does a good job of getting one-on-one matchups inside. This truly is an offense where one strength (the line) plays off another (Murray) and then another (Romo).
It's been a struggle of late to get there for Murray. In three of his last four games, Murray is averaging 3.7 yards per carry, and that includes the 32-carry, 179-yard effort against the Chicago Bears on Dec. 4. In the last two games against the Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts, Murray averaged 2.6 yards per carry.
Coach Jason Garrett does not believe it is an indication of Murray slowing down after posting career highs in carries (373), yards (1,745) and games (15).
"I don't see any signs," Garrett said. "I think he looks really good as a runner, a receiver, a blocker. I felt what he did as a blocker in that game the other day was really special. Think about him coming off of that surgery and the seventh play of the ballgame he has to go back and block a free safety and did an outstanding job. He's a heck of a good football player, I know that."
Because of the success of the running game, which is ranked second in the NFL at 145.3 yards per game, teams are paying more attention to Murray. That has opened up bigger plays in the passing game.
The Cowboys have nine pass plays of 20 yards or more in the last two games, their best two-game total since October.
"I think we've done a really good job of being persistent with our running game, continuing to try to run the football throughout the game," Garrett said, "but also take advantage of some of those opportunities and cash in on the passing game."
Garrett drew up an analogy to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's sky hook. Teams knew it was coming, but they couldn't stop it. Defenses knew Smith was going to run the lead draw and they could not stop it. The offensive coaches are searching for new and old ways to run the ball more successfully, especially with the playoffs approaching.
"There's certainly a chess match that goes on with everything you do, things that you do that teams have to stop again in all three phases and then the things that complement that," Garrett said.
"And sometimes going back to the original is effective or something off of that. But the best teams, like I said, have things that they do and other teams know what they are."
In the first meeting against the Redskins, Murray ran for 141 yards on 19 carries. His 7.4 yards per carry in that game is a season high.
But the Redskins have the 10th-best run defense in the NFL, giving up 103.2 yards per game.
"They're a good run team. They've always been a good run team," Garrett said. "Some of that has to do with their pressures, the fronts they use and the guys you have to block. Every week it's a challenge to run the football in the NFL. I think we've done a good job of it. We certainly have to do it this week."
Coach Jason Garrett said Murray was with the team for meetings earlier in the day but he was sent home to get rest. The Cowboys do not expect it to affect him for Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins. He needs 29 yards to set the Cowboys’ single-season rushing record held by Emmitt Smith, who ran for 1,773 yards in 1995.
“Looked like he was down in the dumps a little bit with a cold or a fever, hopefully it wasn’t the flu,” tight end Jason Witten said. “But I think he showed last week what kind of toughness he has and what a pro he is. He’ll bounce back. He’ll be here and he’ll be ready to go.”
Quarterback Tony Romo returned to practice and took part in a full session as he continued the same routine he has followed since the second game of the season to maintain and build strength in his back. Linebacker Rolando McClain also returned to practice after sitting out Wednesday to rest his knee and tend to affairs related to the fire that burned down his Alabama home earlier in the week.
Defensive tackle Josh Brent went through a full practice for the first time since injuring his calf three weeks ago and could make his return against the Redskins. Guard Zack Martin (ankle) and safety Jeff Heath (thumb) went through full workouts. Right tackle Doug Free (ankle) and linebacker Dekoda Watson (hamstring) did not practice.