The Rams looked like a tonic for a Cowboys squad which had not celebrated a win in a month. They soothed the hurt from New England and offered a booster shot of confidence to a running attack which had averaged less than 90 yards rushing per game through five contests.
Dallas sprinted to an early 14-0 lead, mainly on the legs of rookie DeMarco Murray, who ran the stock lead draw 91 yards for a touchdown on Dallas' first series of the game. Murray struggled the rest of the first half, but when the defense kept the anemic Rams attack under control, Jason Garrett had the opportunity to find the Murray template. Garrett learned that Murray worked best on the perimeter, off tosses and outside zones, though he also showed the muscle and drive to make the lead draw an effective tool.
The Rams are the NFL's worst rushing defense, so it's likely premature to over-react to the team's 294 yards rushing today. Murray's skills are obvious however, and the St. Louis contest gave the offensive line ample reps (34) to build some cohesion and continuity. With a key division game upcoming, against an Eagles team that has also had trouble stopping the run, the timing could not be better.
As is the way with the 2011, the spike in rushing performance was offset somewhat by the most uneven passing game performance of the season. The timing was off for much of the game. Open receivers were missed and passes were dropped. Dez Bryant dropped a certain touchdown off a slant just before the half.
Bryant shook off the mistake and had a four-quarter game. The last of his five catches was a 20 yard touchdown fade up the right sideline.
On defense, Rob Ryan's guys had a one bullet-point game plan: stop Stephen Jackson. Jackson beat then for two consecutive big plays on the Rams lone scoring drive, running a trap-draw for 40 yards, then running a counter to the right for a score one play later. The Cowboys re-grouped, allowing Jackson less than 30 yards the remainder of the game. The defense stopped Jackson on 4th and goal from the one in the last minute, stopping St. Louis on downs after 1st and goal from the two, showing the energy they displayed last week carried over.
Notes: This was a big day for the rookie runners. Murray shattered Emmitt Smith's team single-game rushing record of 237. He was joined in the big-smile department by Phillip Tanner, who got several fourth quarter runs and notched his first career touchdown.
-- On the downside, Murray's and Tanner's rise may mark Tashard Choice's demise. The 4th year veteran fumbled the ball away on Dallas' first 3rd quarter series and did not play again. This was Choice's second lost fumble in the last two games.
-- A solid start for prodigal guard Montrae Holland, who showed no conditioning issues, while making some big blocks.
-- The challenge for Eagles week is getting both phases of the offense in sync. The passing game has carried the offense, but tonight it sputtered, while the running game finally got out of the garage.
Play of the Game
1st-and-19. One play after a Tony Fiammetta holding penalty wiped out a long Murray edge run, the Cowboys lined up in a base 21 set, with Jason Witten flexed right. The extra space pulled an outside linebacker into space, putting six defenders inside the Rams box against the six Cowboys blockers. The Rams put both safeties deep, expecting the Cowboys to pass to get back much of the needed 19 yards.
The Rams are playing pass. Their LE, RE and LDT charge upfield. Kyle Kosier lets his man rush upfield and seals him outside. Both Doug Free and Tyron Smith do the same with their men. LG Montrae Holland the C Phil Costa double team the tackle lined up over Costa:
Tony Romo's play pass action has the middle linebacker and the weakside linebacker dropping and dithering. They're not sure if the play is a pass or a run. That hesitancy gives fullback Tony Fiammetta time to get upfield and block the middle linebacker. Jason Witten does the same on his linebacker. Holland comes of his double team block and seals the third linebacker. Dallas had the desired "hat-on-a-hat" situation on every one of the seven Rams defenders:
Murray cuts left and has only FS Quintin Mikell to beat. A sharp cut to the left sideline spins Mikell around and turns Murray loose to the left sideline. He has too much speed and finishes the play.
Everything is better -- and easier -- when your offense can run the ball. Here's to more of the same. Long report tomorrow.