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Cowboys Shouldn't Rush DeMarco Murray Back

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DeMarco Murray may be ready to go for a critical game against the Lions. But his health is too valuable to risk, and regardless, he's not the key to victory. Photo by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images.
DeMarco Murray may be ready to go for a critical game against the Lions. But his health is too valuable to risk, and regardless, he's not the key to victory. Photo by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

As the Dallas Cowboys head into a crucial Week 8 matchup against the Detroit Lions, DeMarco Murray’s status remains fraught with uncertainty. But while the starting rusher practiced Wednesday and could conceivably play Sunday, the Cowboys shouldn’t be counting on him, even if his knee feels strong enough to play 60 minutes and take 25 carries.

Dealing with midseason injuries to Murray has become commonplace during Jason Garrett’s tenure. He’s an every-down back with exceptional vision and first-step acceleration. He doubles as a prime receiving threat, and the ‘Boys have never had a No. 2 rusher who could adequately replace him. The offense simply isn’t the same without Murray producing, and in games in which he’s logged more than 20 carries, Dallas is 11-0.

That’s a telling stat. But this is a critical game, and the only thing worse than losing it would be losing it and compromising a key player’s health in the process.

Both Dallas and Detroit sit at 4-3. Both have tremendous offensive firepower embodied in Top 5 wide receivers, athletic offensive lines and pass-heavy play-calling. Defensively, the teams are pretty evenly matched. Like Dallas, Detroit relies on defensive line play to garner momentum, linebacker play to sustain it and has consistently giving up big-time passing yards in 2013. And although the Lions’ run defense has struggled more in its last couple games, there are few stats and zero X-factors to decisively distinguish these defenses.

It’s probably won’t be on par with Dallas-Denver, but this game has all the makings of a shootout. And that’s why the game plan shouldn’t have a huge emphasis on running the ball, Murray or no Murray.

It’s not about Joseph Randle’s inability to produce and contribute. Randle’s 19 rushes (for 65 yards) against Philadelphia were generally hard-fought runs — carries that evinced power, ball security and second effort. He needs more reps, but on paper, Randle looks like a nice addition to the Cowboys’ pass protection, red-zone game and short-yardage attack.

No, it’s about this game being so important. These are two playoff-caliber teams gritting and barring their way through divisions with more uncertainty than the 2000 presidential election. Week 8 finds both in curious but promising positions in their divisional races. In the NFC North, Chicago now finds itself without Jay Cutler, but Green Bay, the divisional leader, has Minnesota. In the East, the Cowboys enter Week 8 coming off a resounding road win against the Eagles, but could easily lose their edge, given Philly plays the Giants this weekend.

Both need to win to keep pace. The winner enters the season’s midpoint way ahead of this year’s expectations: full of confidence, media praise and positive energy. The loser enters a disappointment: a wasted-talent team representing a franchise that just can’t catch a break these days.

So while the Cowboys should be happy if Murray’s able to play, they shouldn’t push his snaps. The experience is good for Randle, and Murray is too valuable and too injury-prone. But that’s a debate for another day.

For today, for Week 8, and for the purpose of calling the first half of 2013 a success, the Cowboys need a W next to this game. And it’s not likely to be won or lost on the ground.