DeMarco Murray has struggled to get on track this season, which might cause some to believe that the Dallas Cowboys can survive his absence. But what those observers would be failing to see is that the Cowboys have failed to survive during his struggles.
If the Cowboys were going to dig themselves out of the current hole they're in, Murray was going to have to play a substantial role. Dez Bryant notwithstanding, nobody on the Dallas roster is more dangerous with the ball in their hands.
Murray sprained his foot in the first half Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, clouding his status going forward. Prior to the injury, he was finally having a breakout game with 90 yards on only 13 carries (6.9 yards per attempt). The game was tied when he was forced to leave.
We're awaiting results of an MRI, but early word from ESPNDallas.com's Todd Archer indicates there could be ligament damage. He might not be lost for the season, but Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports via Twitter that he's already been ruled out for next week's game in Carolina.
That's a bad sign.
I know, Felix Jones, Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar combined for a solid 124 yards on 28 carries in relief of Murray Sunday, but that came against a soft and depleted Baltimore front seven. Murray's numbers might also have been inflated by that factor, but it's his ability to get those extra yards in the secondary that separates him from the rest of those backs.
We even saw that Sunday against Baltimore. On the 28-yard gain that led to Dallas' first touchdown, Murray easily navigated his way through the front seven for a first-down pickup. But by the time he reached the next level of the defense, eight yards beyond the line of scrimmage, he was surrounded by four Baltimore defenders.
He smartly went hard at Ed Reed...
And he completely overpowered Reed, tossing him aside and taking off down the sideline for an extra 18 yards, moving the Cowboys into the red zone.
We saw that again, to a lesser extent, later in the first quarter. On this run, Murray looked to be done after about a four-yard gain.
But he used a deadly cut, followed by an explosive burst to run through/over/around Cary Williams and Bernard Pollard. Five extra yards. And that's Williams in red, on the turf.
I'm not saying Jones, Tanner and Dunbar can't do this, but few backs in the league do it as well as Murray. And you got the sense during the first half Sunday that his performance went beyond Baltimore struggling to stop the run. He was finally finding a groove.
The Cowboys don't have a good offensive line. No secret there. But Murray's the kind of player that can compensate for that by making guys miss all on his own. Jones has that natural ability, but he's been far too unreliable and already had to miss time in the second half Sunday.
That's why the Cowboys have to hope and pray that Murray is able to return as quickly as possible. If indeed he's avoided a Lisfranc injury, that's great news. But if he isn't back in time for impact games against the Giants, Falcons and Eagles in Weeks 8, 9 and 10, his absence could be significant enough to cost Dallas a victory.
And when the margin for error is already razor-thin, that could change the course of the entire season.