There are some higher-profile members of the Dallas Cowboys roster, but the true key to this team's success in 2014 lies in the offense's backfield. DeMarco Murray was able to put up career-high numbers last season but was largely underutilized.
If Murray is given more opportunities this year, Dallas has a strong chance of breaking out of mediocrity. The rusher posted 1,121 yards on the ground with nine touchdowns last season. Despite his impressive production though, the offensive coaches didn't give him nearly enough touches.
The Cowboys are 11-0 in Murray's career when he has been given at least 20 carries. In 14 games last year, he was given the ball 20 or more times on just three occasions.
The #Cowboys are 11-0 whenever Demarco Murray gets 20 or more carries— NFL Stats (@NFL_Stats) December 24, 2013
Murray achieved his career numbers last season in spite of his role with the offense, not because of it. There's no question that guys like Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and Brandon Carr have as big, if not bigger roles to play for this team. And that's part of the problem, really.
In just 13 games and seven starts his rookie year, Murray recorded 897 yards and two touchdowns. Before going down due to an injury, he seemed poised to break the 1,000-yard mark. The Oklahoma product did so in 2013 and should easily do so again this season...if given a bigger role in the offense.
Last year, the Cowboys went 5-4 when Murray was given the ball less than 20 times. It's clear that his production leads to a direct, positive impact on the offense. When the opposing defense has to worry about more than just Romo's arm, Dallas' offense is able to play to its full potential.
"Whenever you have a chance to get more opportunities it’s always good." Murray told ESPN Dallas' Calvin Watkins. "But whatever they plan on doing hopefully we continue to have a lot of success in the passing game, running game, whatever it may be, continue to play ball and have fun.”
Murray has always said the right things when asked about his role in the offense and if he should be more involved. While his team-first attitude is likely well-appreciated in the locker room, Murray needs more touches in order for this team to live up to its potential.
If Murray was able to rush for more than 1,100 yards in 14 games last season despite just 217 attempts, imagine what he could do over 16 games and 250 attempts.
Ben Malena: "The benefit of playing for the Cowboys is they have a Pro Bowl running back in DeMarco Murray. We get to see how he works."— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) May 27, 2014
Dallas' offense has a lot of impressive pieces, but Murray is the only one that can give it a necessary balance. Guys like Jason Witten, Bryant and Romo can only offer passing production and if called upon to much, make the offense one-dimensional. There needs to be a harmony between the rushing and the passing game.
Though some of the Dallas faithful might not believe bringing in Scott Linehan as passing game coordinator will help create that balance, it very well could. Last season, while offensive coordinator in Detroit, Linehan helped the tandem of Reggie Bush and Joique Bell run for more than 1,600 yards.
Linehan loves to pass, but he knows how to utilize good rushers when he has them.
When Bill Callahan, Jason Garrett and Linehan get the offensive game plans together each week this season, it better feature plenty of No. 29. If the Cowboys foolishly decided to underutilize him again in 2014, it's hard to see them finishing better than 8-8 for a fourth straight season.
Stats via ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.