Stats & Info: DeMarco Murray

Cowboys vs. Packers: duel of unbeatens

January, 8, 2015
Jan 8

Getty ImagesTony Romo, who is 8-0 on the road this season, visits Aaron Rodgers, who is 8-0 at home.
In 1967, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Dallas Cowboys in a playoff game dubbed the Ice Bowl. This Sunday will mark the first time since then that the Cowboys will travel to Green Bay for a playoff game.

The Cowboys have gone 4-2 against the Packers in postseason play, winning the last four meetings. Four of the six winners of a Cowboys-Packers playoff matchup have gone on to win the Super Bowl that year.

Top stats to know
The Cowboys have gone 8-0 on the road this season. The Packers have gone 8-0 at home this season.

Only once since the AFL-NFL merger (1970) has an unbeaten home team hosted an unbeaten road team in the playoffs. That instance was in 1972, when the visiting Dolphins beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh en route to a perfect season.

While the Cowboys have been strong on the road this season, the franchise has lost its last six road playoff games, with the last win coming during the 1992 season. Only the Lions (10), Bengals (seven) and Browns (seven) have longer active losing streaks in road playoff games.

The Packers have been strong at home this season, but the franchise is 3-5 in its last eight home playoff games after starting 13-0. Aaron Rodgers is 1-2 at home in his playoff career and 4-2 on the road or at a neutral site.

Matchups to watch
Turnover battle: Turnovers have been key to the Cowboys’ success this season. Including the playoffs, the Cowboys are 11-0 this season when winning or tying the turnover battle. When they commit more turnovers than their opponents, they are 2-4.

The good news for the Cowboys is that one of their turnover problems seems to be solved. DeMarco Murray, who fumbled five times (losing all five) in the first eight games of the season, hasn’t fumbled since Week 8. He has 240 touches since his last game with a fumble, 50 more than any other fumble-less player in that time.

The bad news for Dallas is that the Packers don’t commit turnovers. The Packers tied the Patriots for fewest giveaways (13) this season and led the NFL in turnover margin (plus-14).

At Lambeau, it will probably be even harder for the Cowboys to force a turnover. Including the playoffs, Rodgers hasn’t thrown an interception at home in his last 477 passes. He has played 16 games since his last home interception.

Murray vs. Packers' improved rush defense: Murray led the NFL in rushing this season, and the Cowboys rushed on an NFL-high 52 percent of plays this season.

The Packers’ rush defense started off atrociously this season, allowing 1,228 yards and nine touchdowns in the first eight games of the season.

After their bye week in Week 9, the Packers made a big shift, playing Clay Matthews at inside linebacker more frequently. Matthews played 115 snaps at inside linebacker the second half of the season after doing so 23 times to start the year.

The Packers allowed 3.7 yards per rush this season with Matthews at inside linebacker (the league average is 4.2 yards per rush). The switch helped the Packers limit opponents to 691 yards and two rushing touchdowns the second half of the season.

Did you know?
Rodgers threw his first career passing touchdown against the Cowboys in Week 13 of the 2007 season. Rodgers was playing in relief of Brett Favre, who was injured in the second quarter of a 37-27 loss to the Cowboys.

Eagles zone reads keep Dallas off balance

November, 27, 2014
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesLeSean McCoy (25) ran away from the Cowboys on Thanksgiving.
There’s something about Thanksgiving that brings the best out of the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Eagles are now 6-0 on Thanksgiving, the best record in NFL history for any team to play at least five Thanksgiving games.

The Eagles got it done on the ground with a season-high 256 rushing yards, easily the most the Dallas Cowboys have allowed in a game this season.

LeSean McCoy led the way with 159 rushing yards, including a rushing touchdown in consecutive games for the first time since 2011.

On the other side, the Cowboys -- who entered the week ranked second in rushing yards -- struggled running the ball against an Eagles rush defense that ranked in the middle of the pack.

The Cowboys were held under 100 rushing yards for just the second time this season (as was DeMarco Murray, who had a season-low 73 rushing yards). The Cowboys are 0-2 this season when they have fewer than 100 rushing yards and 8-2 when they reach 100.

Murray had just 20 carries against the Eagles, just one more than his season low. When Murray has at least 24 rushes this season, the Cowboys are 7-0. When he has fewer than 24, they’re now 1-4 this season.

The Cowboys as a team had 25 rushes. Since Jason Garrett became the Cowboys head coach in 2011, they’re 14-1 when they have 30 or more rushes, 16-13 with 20-29 rushes, and just 2-14 when they run it fewer than 20 times.

Eagles' rush attack
In Mark Sanchez’s first three starts this season, the Eagles ran six zone-read rushes for 34 yards, including none in Week 12.

But on Thursday, the Eagles had 21 zone-read rushes for 135 yards and two touchdowns.

The strong running attack helped Mark Sanchez on play-action plays. Sanchez was 6-of-9 for 61 yards and threw his only touchdown off play-action fakes, and he didn’t even attempt a non-play-action pass in the second half.

Play action has been vital for Sanchez. The only quarterback this season with a worse touchdown-interception differential on non-play-action passes than Sanchez (-3) is Blake Bortles (-6).

What happened to the Cowboys' offense?
The Cowboys finished with 10 points, their fewest in a game since Week 2 of 2012 at Seattle (27-7 loss) and fewest in a home game since Week 16 of 2011 against the Eagles (20-7 loss).

Tony Romo completed 5 of 10 passes under duress for 60 yards and two interceptions. Romo’s 10 attempts under duress were his most in a game this season. Romo had not thrown an interception under duress since the season-opening loss to the 49ers.

Romo completed 3 of 12 passes with two interceptions on attempts more than 10 yards downfield, his worst completion percentage on such passes this season. Six of his incompletions were off target, including both of his interceptions. Romo’s six off-target throws downfield were his most since Week 12 of 2012 against the Redskins.

Murray had zero rushes of at least 10 yards after having at least two such rushes in each game this season and a league-leading 38 entering the game, six more than any other player this season.

Eagles, Cowboys face life without starters

November, 6, 2014

ony Gutierrez/AP PhotoThe Eagles’ quarterback job is Mark Sanchez’s for now with Nick Foles injured
The Philadelphia Eagles (6-2) and Dallas Cowboys (6-3) are 1-2 in the NFC East standings, and both are dealing with injuries to their starting quarterbacks. They lead their division rivals by at least 2 games, and according to projections from numberFire, each has better than a 75 percent likelihood of making the playoffs.

Sanchez handled the blitz -- really
The Eagles will be without Nick Foles for six to eight weeks after he was found to have a crack in his left collarbone. So in comes Mark Sanchez, who Sunday saw his first NFL action since Week 17 of the 2012 season. One area to watch will be how Sanchez handles the blitz, something he struggled with his final three seasons with the Jets (2010 to 2012). He bottomed out in 2012 when his Total QBR was 15.1 against the blitz, which was the worst of any qualifying quarterback, and his eight interceptions in that situation tied Tony Romo for the most.

The early returns were positive. Sanchez was 7-of-9 against the Texans’ blitz Sunday. Both of his touchdown passes came against extra pressure. When the Texans used a more conservative rush, however, Sanchez struggled.

Sanchez was 4-of-4 on passes from outside the pocket, including his touchdown to Jeremy Maclin in the fourth quarter. That one touchdown pass outside the pocket matched the number of touchdown passes Foles has thrown (in 45 passes) from outside the pocket this season.

And throwing to Maclin deep may be a smart plan. Both Foles and Sanchez completed passes to Maclin 30 or more yards past the line of scrimmage Sunday, including a touchdown. Eagles quarterbacks are 3-of-3 with two touchdowns on such passes to Maclin the past two weeks after going 1-of-13 with one touchdown and three interceptions the first six games of the season.

Romo or Weeden ... or Option 3?
The Cowboys travel to London to play the Jaguars on Sunday, but it’s uncertain who will be under center: Romo or Brandon Weeden. Romo’s 64.7 Total QBR over the last three seasons is ninth among 34 qualified quarterbacks. Weeden’s 25.4 QBR ranks last in that time span. Weeden has lost his last eight starts.

The statistics would seem to make it a simple choice, regardless of who plays quarterback: Run with DeMarco Murray and the run game.

The Cowboys ran the ball on 12 of their 26 first-down snaps in Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals (46 percent). It was the second time this season that the Cowboys passed more than ran on first down. The other game? A Week 1 loss to the 49ers. The Cowboys’ rush-pass ratio on first down in all other games is at least plus-10 in favor of rushes this season, and they are 6-1 in those games.

Cowboys face tough test against Cards' D

October, 30, 2014

AP Photo/Brandon WadeDeMarco Murray has rushed for 100 yards in a Cowboys-record eight consecutive games.
The Dallas Cowboys welcome the Arizona Cardinals in a game featuring division leaders entering Week 9.

The Cowboys are coming off their first loss since Week 1, while the Cardinals’ only loss was in Denver, where third-string quarterback Logan Thomas was forced into action.

Here are a few things to keep an eye on as the Cowboys and Cardinals duel for the NFC’s top seed.

More Murray, Less Problems
DeMarco Murray extended his 100-yard streak to eight games with his most efficient rushing game of the season Monday, despite a season-low 19 rushes. But Dallas looked elsewhere in short-yardage situations.

Dallas ran 14 plays with 3 yards or fewer to gain. Only two were rushing plays, and both resulted in first downs. On the 12 pass plays, the Cowboys went 3-of-10 passing with two sacks taken.

This season, the Cowboys have gained a first down on 81 percent of rushing attempts with 3-yards-or-fewer to gain, the highest rate in the league.

Arizona’s defense has held opponents to a 52 percent conversion rate with 3-yards-or-fewer to gain, the second-lowest rate in the league this season.

The Cardinals pressure the opposing quarterback on 35 percent of their attempts with 3 yards or fewer to gain, the third-highest percentage in the league.

Cardiac Cards Bring Pressure
Since defensive coordinator Todd Bowles joined the Cardinals prior to the 2013 season, Arizona has had the most blitz-happy defense in the league.

This season, the Cardinals have a league-high five interceptions when blitzing and are one of three teams with a negative touchdown-interception differential (minus-1) when blitzing.

The Cardinals not only bring pressure, but they bring it from deep. Arizona has blitzed a defensive back on a league-high 48 pass attempts this season.

Opposing quarterbacks have completed only 38 percent of their attempts when the Cardinals send a defensive back on a blitz, tied for the second-lowest percentage in the league.

Ellington Evolves into Every-Down Back
After averaging 10.5 touches per game last season, Andre Ellington has 20-plus touches in each of the Cardinals’ last five games.
The Arizona running back has 31 percent of the Cardinals’ yards from scrimmage this season. Ellington is one of five running backs to record more than one-quarter of his team’s yards from scrimmage.

Ellington, Le’Veon Bell and Matt Forte are the only three backs this season with at least 400 rush yards and 250 receiving yards.

MNF Preview: Redskins-Cowboys

October, 27, 2014

AP Photo/Alex Brandon
The Cowboys and Redskins meet on Monday Night Football for the 16th time
The Washington Redskins (2-5) and Dallas Cowboys (6-1) meet on Monday Night Football for the 16th time. Only the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos (17 meetings) have been more frequent Monday Night opponents.

Dallas leads the MNF series 8-7.

Here are the top stats to know heading into the NFC East matchup.

DeMarco Murray
Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray has the NFL record for the most 100-yard rushing games to start a season with seven. Murray's seven 100-yard games are tied for fifth-most in a single season in Cowboys history. The team record is 11, set by Emmitt Smith in 1995. The Cowboys won the Super Bowl that year.

Murray and Smith are the only players in Cowboys history with 900 rushing yards over any seven-game span. Smith had 949 over seven games spanning the 1993-94 seasons.

At his current rate of 26.7 rushes per game, Murray would set an NFL record with 427 rushes for the season. The current record holder is Larry Johnson with 416 for the 2006 Chiefs.

The increased workload helped the Cowboys rack up 423 yards of offense in a Week 7 win over the Giants, marking their fourth consecutive game with at least 400 yards.

Tony Romo
Tony Romo has thrown a touchdown pass in 35 straight games. If he throws one against the Redskins, he would tie Brett Favre for the fifth-longest streak in NFL history.

Romo has been the best quarterback in the NFL after halftime this season, leading the league in Total QBR (96) and yards per attempt (10.1) entering Week 8. Romo’s completion percentage (71 percent) and eight touchdowns after halftime rank second in the NFL.

With a win, Romo can get to 70 as a starter in his career. The only two Cowboys quarterbacks who have hit that threshold are Troy Aikman (94) and Roger Staubach (85).

Colt McCoy
Redskins quarterback Colt McCoy will make his first start since Week 14 of 2011. Among active quarterbacks, only Blaine Gabbert and Brandon Weeden have worse records as a starter.

McCoy will be asked to lead a Redskins team that has not won against an NFC East opponent since knocking off the Cowboys in Week 17 of 2012. The eight-game losing streak within the division is the longest active streak in the NFL.

Moving the football has not been a problem for the Redskins. They entered Week 8 averaging 6.2 yards per play, the second-best average in the NFL. However, their 15 turnovers were tied with the Jaguars for most in the NFL entering this week.

Top stats to know: DeMarco Murray

October, 17, 2014

Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesDeMarco Murray (29) is on pace for a record-breaking season
DeMarco Murray leads a 5-1 Dallas Cowboys team that ranks first in the NFL with 160 rushing yards per game.

Here are the top 10 stats to know about Murray’s incredible start.

1. Murray has six straight 100-yard rushing games to begin the season, tying Jim Brown in 1958 for the longest streak of its kind in NFL history.

2. Murray leads the NFL in rushing by 243 yards over Le'Veon Bell through Week 6. That's the largest rushing lead through Week 6 since 1998 when Terrell Davis led Natrone Means by 269 yards.

3. Murray's 785 rush yards are the 6th-most by any running back in his team's first six games since the merger, and most by any Cowboys player.

4. Only O.J. Simpson (171 in 1975), Eddie George (165 in 2000) and Ricky Williams (161 in 2003) had more rush attempts through six games than Murray’s 159.

5. Murray is averaging 26.5 rushes per game, over 10 more than his previous career-high (16.1 in 2012).

6. Twenty-eight NFL teams have fewer rushes of at least 10 yards than Murray’s 23

7. Twenty-seven NFL teams have fewer rushing first downs than Murray’s 41.

8. Four teams have rushed for fewer total yards this season than Murray’s 474 rush yards before contact.

9. No player has more total rush yards than Murray has on first down alone (594).

10. The Cowboys are 16-1 when Murray has at least 20 rushes in a game during his career.

Matchups to watch: Eagles at Cowboys

December, 27, 2013
With Tony Romo out when the Philadelphia Eagles come to town for a Week 17 divisional showdown, all eyes will be on the Dallas Cowboys quarterback Kyle Orton.

But despite the quarterbacks garnering many of the headlines, the key to success for the Cowboys will be establishing DeMarco Murray on the ground.

DeMarco Murray vs. Eagles rush defense
LeSean McCoy may be the better-known running back, but Murray has actually averaged more yards per carry this season (5.4 for Murray to 5.1 for McCoy). In fact, only rookie Andre Ellington (5.7) has averaged more yards per carry than Murray among qualified running backs.

However, Murray faces an Eagles front seven that has flown under the radar this season. Over the last five weeks, the Eagles have held opponents to 2.9 yards per carry, the fewest in the league during that span.

In their previous meeting, which Murray missed due to injury, the Cowboys were held to 2.9 yards per carry, their fewest against the Eagles in their last 10 games.

While the Eagles rush defense has improved during the course of the season, the Cowboys front seven has moved in the opposite direction.

LeSean McCoy vs. Cowboys Linebackers
While Romo’s absence is certainly noteworthy, the Cowboys defense will again be missing their star linebacker, Sean Lee. The Cowboys have allowed 5.2 yards per carry this season without Lee on the field. Only the Bears, who McCoy gashed for 7.4 yards per carry last week, have allowed more yards per carry this season.

But one of the biggest defensive struggles for the Cowboys has been defending receivers out of the backfield. Dallas has allowed eight receiving touchdowns to running backs, the most in the league.

McCoy has averaged 11.8 yards after the catch on his receptions this season, the highest mark in the NFL.

The Cowboys may struggle to defend running backs, but the Eagles find trouble against wide outs.

Dez Bryant vs. Eagles secondary
Even without Romo under center, Dez Bryant could not have asked for a better matchup to close out the season. The Eagles pass defense ranks last in all three major categories against opposing wide receivers.

In their previous game this season, Bryant tied his career-high with 17 targets, hauling in eight passes for 110 yards.

While Bryant had one of his best games against the Eagles, the Philadelphia tight ends disappeared against the Cowboys.

Eagles Tight Ends vs. Cowboys secondary
Nick Foles has some recognizable options in McCoy and DeSean Jackson, but his favorite targets may be his tight ends. Foles has averaged 9.1 yards per attempt when targeting his tight ends.

Only Colin Kaepernick has a higher average when targeting tight ends this season. Foles has also yet to throw an interception when throwing to a tight end this season.

The Cowboys have struggled against tight ends as well, allowing the third-most receptions (85) and fifth-most yards (933) this season. In their last meeting, Foles only completed 50 percent (4-of-8) of his passes when throwing to his tight ends, his lowest mark in a game this season.

No Romo spells trouble for Cowboys

December, 23, 2013

AP Photo/James D. SmithA source tells ESPN that Tony Romo will miss the remainder of the season.

The day after throwing a game-winning touchdown to put the Dallas Cowboys in a winner-take-all game against the Philadelphia Eagles this Sunday night, Tony Romo’s luck took a drastic turn.

A source tells ESPN that Romo will miss the remainder of the season with a back injury. Here is a look at how much he will be missed in Big D:

Romo vs. all others
It has been all Romo in Dallas since 2006. He made his first career start in Week 8 of that season. He has missed 13 games since becoming the starter.

Jon Kitna (nine games), Brad Johnson (three) and Stephen McGee (one), have started in relief of Romo since 2006. They have won a combined six of those 13 starts while enjoying far less success throwing the ball.

Romo has thrown 31 touchdown passes this season, tied for the second-highest total in Cowboys’ history and five shy of the team record, which he set in 2007. Romo is the only quarterback in team history to throw for 30 or more touchdown passes in a season. He's done so three times.

The replacement
The Cowboys have two quarterbacks on their roster – Romo and Kyle Orton. Orton is 35-34 in 69 career starts, but he has not started since Jan. 1, 2012.

Orton signed with the Cowboys prior to the 2012 season and has not been seen much since. Romo has thrown 98.7 percent of the Cowboys’ passes since then – the 11th highest rate for any quarterback in the NFL.

Orton has attempted just 15 passes over the last two seasons and those came in a pair of blowouts when the Cowboys were trailing by 24 points.

In 2011, he started eight games for the Denver Broncos (five) and Kansas City Chiefs (three). Orton had a 59.5 percent completion percentage that season (ranked 20th in the NFL), 7.0 yards per attempt (17th), and a total QBR of 52.4 (18th).

Can they still rely on the pass?
Few teams lean on the pass as much as the Cowboys have this season.

Dallas owns the fifth highest dropback percentage this season at 66 percent. The Cleveland Browns have the highest percentage at 70 percent.

The Cowboys may have to change it up and feed running back DeMarco Murray on Sunday night. This season, 17 running backs have averaged more rushes per game than Murray’s 15.4, despite the fact that Murray is averaging 5.4 yards per rush.

Romo gets it right this time around

December, 22, 2013

Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportssTony Romo (right) got it done when needed on Sunday against the Redskins.
Tony Romo did it again, with "it" in this case being something positive-- a game-winning touchdown rather than a game-ending interception.

Romo led the Cowboys to a comeback win over the Washington Redskins with his late touchdown throw to DeMarco Murray.

This marked the 12th time that Romo has led a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime in the last three seasons. That’s the most in the NFL in that span. Romo's 23 career game-winning drives are tied with Roger Staubach for the most in Cowboys history (Staubach's 23 include two in the playoffs).

What did Romo do best on Sunday?
Romo threw both of his touchdowns (including the game-winner to Murray) outside the pocket on Sunday.

Romo has four touchdown passes from outside the pocket in his last three games, with at least one in each game. He only had one in his first 11 games of the season.

The game-winning play
Murray’s touchdown catch was unusual in a number of respects. Entering the day, he’d only run three fourth-down pass routes in his entire career.

Romo had only thrown one fourth-down pass all season (an incomplete one against the Chicago Bears) prior to Sunday.

But there was some indication that the struggles the Cowboys had on those first three plays could be erased.

Romo entered the day having completed 71 percent of his fourth-down passes (and had a completion earlier in the fourth quarter), the highest completion percentage of any active quarterback. He was 20 for 25 (80 percent) on fourth-down throws in the fourth quarter or overtime.

Looking ahead
Next Sunday, the Cowboys will play in their eighth win-or-go-home game in Week 17 or the playoffs with Tony Romo as the starting quarterback.

They are 1-6 in the previous seven games, 0-3 in those games that were played in Week 17.

In the seven games, Romo has completed 61 percent of his passes, but has only eight touchdown throws and seven interceptions.

Each of the three Week 17 games was played on the road, with the Cowboys losing by a combined 65 points.

Deep passes will be key in MNF matchup

December, 9, 2013

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh Josh McCown has excelled in the starting role thanks in large part to his success on deep throws.

Because the Eagles beat the Lions Sunday, the winner of Monday’s game will be tied atop their division. Let's take a look at some of the key matchups for the Week 14 edition of Monday Night Football between the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears.

Josh McCown’s deep ball vs Cowboys defense

While filling in for the injured Jay Cutler, Josh McCown has posted a Total QBR of 78.4, second best in the NFL. McCown’s success has a lot to do with his deep throws. McCown has completed 51.7 percent of his passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield this season, second only to Russell Wilson. McCown has had most of his success when targeting Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, who have combined to catch 12 of his 15 completions on deep throws.

The Cowboys’ ability to stop opposing quarterbacks on deep throws has had a direct impact on whether or not they win the game. In their seven wins, opposing quarterbacks have completed 34.7 percent of their passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield and posted a Total QBR of 34.0. In the Cowboys five losses, opposing quarterbacks have a nearly perfect 99.8 Total QBR, mostly due to a 66.7 completion percentage on deep throws.

Tony Romo’s deep ball vs Bears defense

Through the first five weeks of the season, Tony Romo was tied with Drew Brees for the best Total QBR on passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield (99.5). Romo was averaging a league-high 18.7 yards per attempt on such throws. But lately, Romo has been unable to find the same success on deep throws. In his last seven games, Romo has a Total QBR of 51.6 on deep balls, 28th among qualified passers.

Romo will look to return to early season form as he goes against a Bears defense that has struggled defending deep passes.

The Bears have allowed a league-high 99.1 Total QBR and 57.1 completion percentage on passes thrown 15 or more yards this season.

DeMarco Murray’s inside running vs Bears defense

The strength of DeMarco Murray this season has been running inside. Murray has averaged 5.2 yards per rush on runs inside the tackles this season, fifth best in the NFL. He has averaged nearly a yard more per rush on those runs than he has on runs outside the tackles.

Murray could exploit a Bears defense that has struggled to stop the inside run.

The Bears have allowed 4.9 yards per rush on runs inside the tackles, third worst in the NFL. Since 2006, the Bears have never had a season in which they allowed more than 4.3 yards per rush on such runs. Since Lance Briggs was injured in Week 7, the Bears have allowed over 100 yards on runs inside the tackles in all five games. The Bears had allowed over 100 such rushing yards twice in their first seven games when Briggs was active.

Cowboys look to rebound from tough finish

July, 26, 2013

AP Photo/Gus RuelasThe pressure is on Jason Garrett despite a vote of confidence from Jerry Jones
The Dallas Cowboys opened their 25th training camp under the ownership of Jerry Jones on July 20. SportsCenter is at Cowboys camp on Friday and will try to answer some of their most important offseason questions.

Is the problem Jason Garrett or Jerry Jones?
Jason Garrett is 21-19 as the Cowboys head coach since taking over in the middle of the 2010 season.

The Cowboys have finished in third place in each of the last three seasons in the NFC East. Dallas has never finished outside the top two in their division in four straight seasons since the NFL split its conferences into divisions in 1967.

In each of the last two seasons, the Cowboys have started 8-6 before losing their final two games to finish 8-8. Dallas has lost a Week 17 “win-and-in” game in each of these past two years.

Is Tony Romo worth his new contract?
Dallas signed Tony Romo to a six-year extension on April 1 that includes $55 million in guaranteed money, tied with Drew Brees for the third-most in any active NFL contract (Matt Ryan reportedly signed a new deal on July 25 that guarantees $59 million; while Tom Brady is guaranteed $57 million on his deal).

Romo has been the Cowboys starting QB for two full seasons under Garrett, ranking among the top four QBs in completion percentage and pass yards in that span.

However, Romo threw 19 interceptions (tied for the most in the NFL) and led the league with eight interceptions when under duress last season.

Can Dez Bryant back up his breakout season?
Over the last seven weeks of last season, Dez Bryant led the NFL in receiving touchdowns (nine) and ranked third in receiving yards per game (113.1).

Bryant finished with 1,382 receiving yards and 12 TDs last season, joining Terrell Owens in 2007 as the only players with 1,300 receiving yards and 12 TDs in a season in team history.

Will the Cowboys fix their running game?
Dallas ranked 31st in the NFL in rush yards per game last season at 79.1, the lowest rate in team history. In fact, the team finished in the bottom six in yards per rush (30th, at 3.6), yards after contact (30th, with 522) and rush TD (T-27th with eight).

Tailback DeMarco Murray has shown flashes but has battled injuries in his two seasons. Murray missed six games with a foot injury last season and a hamstring injury caused him to miss parts of Cowboys OTAs this offseason.

Since Murray’s breakout game (253 rush yards) in Week 7 of 2011, he ranks among the top eight in the league in rushing yards per game and yards per rush.

What changes will Monte Kiffin make?
Rob Ryan was fired after two seasons as the Cowboys coordinator and replaced by Monte Kiffin, who is expected to change the Cowboys to a 4-3 defensive scheme.

Kiffin has spent 26 years as an NFL defensive assistant, including 15 as defensive coordinator. Kiffin, the architect of the “Tampa 2” defense, spent 13 years as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator, helping lead the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title after the 2002 season.

Dallas was exposed downfield last season, allowing a league-worst 96.9 Total QBR on throws more than 10 yards downfield.

US Presswire
Eli Manning (left) has thrived against the Cowboys, while Tony Romo was sacked nine times against the Giants last season. The two will meet in the NFL regular season opener on Wednesday.

The NFL regular season gets under way Wednesday night with the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants hosting the rival Dallas Cowboys.

The Giants have owned the series as of late, sweeping last season’s meetings and taking five of the last six in the series. Coming off last season, when the G-men became the fifth franchise to win at least four Super Bowl titles, it would appear the Giants have all the momentum.

But the Cowboys are 5-0 all-time against the Giants in season openers, scoring more than 30 points in all four games, including a 45-35 win in 2007, the last meeting between the teams in a season opener.

2012 is also shaping up to be a tough season for the Giants, as their opponents went a combined 140-116 last season, the toughest schedule this season.

Over the last three seasons, the team with the toughest regular-season schedule based on opponents’ records the previous year has not finished over .500.

On the plus side for the Giants, Eli Manning will still line up under center. In 15 regular season games against the Cowboys, Manning has thrown 31 touchdowns, his most against any opponent. In NFL history, only three players have thrown for more touchdowns against the Cowboys than Manning, and he can tie Jim Hart’s record with a four-TD performance.

Manning threw three of his five touchdowns against the Cowboys last season when facing five or more pass rushers, with no interceptions. The Cowboys may look to lighten the pass rush against Manning this season, as he also led the NFL last season with 18 touchdown passes against such pressure.

His Dallas counterpart, Tony Romo, will have to overcome the Giants pass rush.

In the teams' Week 17 meeting last season, Romo was sacked six times, tying a career high. Over the final seven weeks of the 2011 season, Romo was sacked a total of 21 times, the second-most in the NFL behind Alex Smith’s 23.

The Giants recorded nine sacks against the Cowboys last season, eight of those coming from defensive linemen. The Giants' defensive line combined for 45 sacks last season, the most of any team.

Injuries will also play a big role for the Cowboys. Tight end Jason Witten’s status remains uncertain. He leads all tight ends with 173 receptions and 1,944 receiving yards over the last two seasons.

Romo has completed 73.5 percent of his passes to Jason Witten over the past three seasons. During that time, only Peyton Manning and Dallas Clark (75.3 percent) connected on a higher percentage of passes among quarterbacks and tight ends with 100 attempts.

Dallas will get running back DeMarco Murray back in the lineup for the first time since breaking an ankle against the Giants in Week 14 last season. Murray averaged 5.47 yards per rush last season, third-highest mark in the NFL and third-highest single-season total in Cowboys history.

Cowboys offense needs Fiammetta back

December, 10, 2011
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireThe stats show that Tony Fiammetta's presence makes the Cowboys a better team in many ways

For the Dallas Cowboys, many eyes will be on stars like Tony Romo and DeMarcus Ware for Sunday's showdown for the NFC East lead against the New York Giants, but it could be third-year fullback Tony Fiammetta, who holds the key to this contest.

Though these two teams will meet once more in Week 17, this game will be very important to both team’s hopes to win the division. A Giants win, one that would snap a four-game losing streak, would put them in first place. A Dallas win would give the Cowboys a two-game lead with three games remaining.

Fiammetta’s presence could make a big difference in the Cowboys chances. He has missed the last three games due to an undisclosed illness, with symptoms of nausea and dizziness. He is listed as questionable this week, but expected to play. That could provide a huge statistical boost.

A quick look at the numbers show how much more productive the Cowboys running game has been with Fiammetta leading the way. His presence and success of the running game has also helped quarterback Tony Romo be a more efficient passer.

Without Fiammetta in the lineup, Romo has averaged more yards per game, but also attempted nine more passes per game to compensate for the lack of running production.

The key numbers to gauge Romo’s production with a good running game are his touchdown-to-interception ratio and Total QBR.

With Fiammetta clearing lanes for the running game Romo has excelled with 10 touchdowns, two interceptions and an 83.3 Total QBR. In the six games Fiammetta has missed, Romo has thrown twelve touchdowns, but also seven interceptions with a Total QBR of 62.0.

Rookie running back, DeMarco Murray, has also benefited greatly, rushing for 502 of his 872 yards with Fiammetta as his lead blocker.

By direction Murray is averaging over six yards per carry on rushes to the left and to the right, and 12 yards-per-carry on rushes up the middle when Fiammetta is lead blocking.

In fact no running back/fullback tandem has a higher yards-per-carry ratio in non-shotgun snaps this season.

So what does all this mean for Sunday?

If the Cowboys hope to win, they need to run the ball well against a Giants team that has surrendered 127 rushing yards per game this season. In the Cowboys seven wins they have rattled off 138 rushing yards per game, but just 83 rushing yards per contest in their five losses.
Last year at this time, Dallas Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey was still at Oklahoma State, and coming off a game at Kansas in which he missed two of his four field goal attempts.

The next week, Bailey made both of his field goal attempts in a loss to Oklahoma and polished off his collegiate career by making all three field goal attempts in a win over Arizona in the Alamo Bowl.

Flash forward to the present, where Bailey hit a pair of field goals, including the game winner with no time remaining, to help the Cowboys beat the Miami Dolphins in a Thanksgiving nail biter.

Bailey has made 27 of 28 field goal attempts in his rookie NFL season, including 26 in a row, one shy of the Cowboys team record by any player, set by Chris Boniol in 1996.

The Cowboys now have seven wins this season, and four of them have come via Bailey game-winning field goals.

Another rookie from the Big 12 has also played a major role in the Cowboys success this season, running back DeMarco Murray.

Murray played sparingly in the first five games of the season, totaling only 73 rushing yards on 25 carries, but has averaged 126.8 rush yards per game in the six games since, in which the Cowboys have gone 5-1.

Through 11 games, Murray has 834 rushing yards, already fourth on the Cowboys single-season rookie rushing list, behind only Tony Dorsett, Calvin Hill and Emmitt Smith. Dorsett is the only Cowboy to rush for 1,000 yards in his rookie season, totaling 1,007 in 1977.

It was Bailey and Murray’s first Thanksgiving games in the NFL, but that wasn’t the case for Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who is now a perfect 5-0 in his NFL career on Thanksgiving as a starter, the best record for any quarterback with at least five Thanksgiving Day starts.

Romo threw a pair of first-quarter interceptions, something he’s now done just twice in his NFL career, but rebounded with a pair of touchdown passes, both to Laurent Robinson.

Robinson was targeted twice in the end zone on Thursday, and both throws resulted in touchdowns. Robinson has five receptions this season in the five times he’s been targeted in the end zone.

Romo is now 19-2 as a starting quarterback in the NFL in November, the best record of any starting quarterback in November in the Super Bowl era (minimum 15 starts in the month).

He did struggle throwing down the field in the victory, going just 5-14 on throws of 11 or more yards, with both of his interceptions coming on throws of that distance. Entering the game Romo had only thrown four interceptions on passes of 11 or more yards for the entire season.

Those three players helped the Cowboys to improve to 7-4 this season, one more win they had all of last season, when Dallas went 6-10 for its first losing season since 2004. Dallas has also won five of its last six Thanksgiving Day games.

Murray powers Cowboys playoff push

November, 16, 2011

Tim Heitman/US PresswireDeMarco Murray leads the NFL in yards after contact per rush, which has helped the Cowboys win three of his four starts.
Since Felix Jones’s injury in Week 6 against the New England Patriots, DeMarco Murray has emerged as the star of the Dallas Cowboys’ running game.

While the Cowboys expect Jones to return Sunday, Murray will remain the team’s primary back. Murray has forced his way into the debate for the NFL’s top offensive rookie, as debated in today’s ESPN Dallas Hot Button.

Murray has averaged 150 yards per game since his Week 7 start against the St. Louis Rams. In his first NFL start, Murray’s 253 yards broke Dallas’s single-game rushing record of 237 yards, set by Emmitt Smith in 1993.

The 227-pound Murray has been more effective than his smaller teammate Jones at rushing inside the tackles. Jones averaged 4.4 yards per carry between the tackles. Murray has averaged 9.0 yards per carry since he took over as starter.

Murray’s 6.7 yards per rush is the most among running backs with at least 50 rushes this season. He is on pace to record the highest single-season average by any rookie with at least 100 rushes since the merger in 1970.

Much of Murray’s success comes from his ability to fight for tough yards. Murray’s averages 3.0 yards after contact per rush, an upgrade for the Cowboys compared to 2.3 yards after contact Jones averaged.

The rookie has also been one of the most explosive players in the league this year. In Murray’s four starts, he has seven rushes of at least 20 yards. Only Darren McFadden (14.1) has had fewer attempts per 20+ yard rush among running backs this season than Murray (14.3).