The Cowboys did not have DeMarco Murray in that first meeting with the Redskins. In his absence, they rushed for a minuscule 35 yards on their way to a 38-31 defeat.
But since Murray's return, he's re-established the Cowboys' running game, which has kept defenses honest and opened up more play-action opportunities for Tony Romo.
When healthy, you can see the skills that make Murray the effective runner that Felix Jones simply is not.
Murray's return has allowed the Cowboys to have a more balanced attack. When they were not able to run the ball, the Cowboys became very predictable and put Romo at risk for self-implosion.
So could there be a downside to Murray's return? How about ball security? Prior to the Pittsburgh game, Murray had only fumbled once and it was recovered by the Cowboys. But in his last two games, Murray has lost fumbles.
The fumble against the Saints last week proved to be catastrophic as it gave Drew Brees a golden opportunity to recapture the lead. That fumble gave the Saints possession at the Cowboys' 3-yard line in a game that was tied at 17.
Against the Steelers two weeks ago, Murray fumbled at the Pittsburgh 7-yard line. That fumble didn't result in any points, but Dallas can't afford to have its starting running back exposing the football and turning the ball over in its season finale.
If the Cowboys are to emerge victorious, they need to protect the ball. They also need production from Murray. Washington boasts a much improved defense that certainly will be looking to strip the ball from him.
The Cowboys' run game produced just 40 yards against the Saints. As a result, they also lost the time-of- possession battle, were forced to abandon the running game and wound up in a shootout.
By getting Murray going early, it will allow Dallas to have more balance on offense and cause Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett to make more adjustments. And that's where opportunities for big plays arise—by catching teams in an adjustment gone wrong.
The season finale against Washington is not the game for a sluggish start, a penalty fest and late-game heroics. This game is about getting back to basics, running the football, protecting the football and executing.
Defensively, stopping RGIII will be an extreme challenge, especially with the loss of key defenders and others slowed by injury. But blown coverages, missed tackles and poor communication will simply gift-wrap the game for Washington.
The Cowboys are in the same spot they were in a year ago with a chance to win the NFC East. While these two Cowboy teams have similarities, they also have stark contrasts as well. Many think that Romo simply needs to put this team on his shoulders. But the keys to victory lie in two areas only—running and protecting the football.
And that rests on the shoulders of a player who needs to have a short memory.
DeMarco Murray, welcome to the NFC East.