Charlie Bernstein: A lot has been made about DeMarco Murray being an MVP candidate, focusing many away from the season Tony Romo is having. Who is more important to the Cowboys success this year?
John Owning: DeMarco Murray has had an incredible season thus far and he has been the best player of the Cowboys; however, as we saw versus the Cardinals the Cowboys are just not the same team with Romo out of the lineup. With Brandon Weeden as the backup, team can put eight or even nine men in the box to limit Murray’s effectiveness. If Murray was out for a game or two, I don’t the the Cowboys offense would be as bad as they are without Romo. Joseph Randle has played very well in his limited opportunities and I think he could replace Murray for a game or two stretch if need be. Therefore, I feel like Romo is the more vital piece to the puzzle out of the two. His presence allows the Cowboys to do so much more on offense and he has the added caveat of actually being able to go through progressions. It basically comes down to the gap is bigger between Romo and his replacement than Murray and his.
CB: Former Jaguars' Jeremy Mincey and Justin Durant (before his injury) had been playing a key role on the Cowboys' defense. How much has each meant to the Dallas D?
JO: Before his injury, Durant was a vital cog in the much-improved Cowboys defense. He made the switch from “Sam” linebacker to the “Will” linebacker position this season and it had fit him incredibly well. It allowed him to use his athleticism to flow to the ball without having to stack and shed blockers as much as he did at “Sam.” The worst part about Durant’s injury is that he was in the midst of his best game of the year before he tore his biceps, he was making plays all over the field. Mince, on the other hand, has arguably been one of, if not, the best defensive lineman for the Cowboys this season. It plays mostly as the right defensive end and he has done an incredibly job collapsing the pocket and putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. He also slides down to the under tackle position on occasion in their nickel package, where he has been effective as well.
CB: The Jaguars have had numerous injuries to their secondary, but have been better against the run of late. Do you foresee a healthy dose of DeMarco Murray or more of an air attack, assuming Tony Romo plays?
JO:: As is the case with any Cowboys game, they need to establish the run before they do anything else. So much of the Cowboys offense is based off the effectiveness of the running game and how that creates favorable matchup for their offense. Especially with Romo’s back issues, I think the Cowboys will try to protect him as much as possible, which means a huge dose of DeMarco Murray with a smattering of Randle and Lance Dunbar. I also expect the Cowboys to try and protect Romo by utilizing the short passing game a lot. The last thing that the Cowboys need is for Romo to get into a lot of five and seven step drops and let Sen’Derrick Marks get a chance to lay the wood on him.
CB: DeMarco Murray's rushing numbers have been directly attributable to the success of the Dallas offensive line. Over the last two weeks they haven't looked nearly as good. What do you make of this temporary decline in production?
JO: As I discussed in my recent article, their is a lack of depth in quality offensive linemen in the NFL and the Cowboys are no different. With the injuries to Doug Free and Ronald Leary, who should be back this week, the Cowboys didn’t have the same cohesion that allowed them to dominate the first seven weeks. They weren’t getting to the second level as much and they were having trouble passing off stunt in pass protection. Anytime you lose 40% of your starting offensive line you are going to see a regression in terms of stats.
CB: Tony Romo obviously has his back injuries and the Jaguars have struggled winning games. With the Jags' ranking third in the NFL in sacks, do you think it's a good idea for Romo to play in this game?
JO: I think the Cowboys are in no position to not put all hands on deck in any of their game. This two-game losing streak has brought a sense of urgency for the Cowboys as they are in desperate need of a win heading into their bye week. I think if Romo can be 80 percent of what he normally is, he needs to play. The Cowboys just have to be smart with their play calls and pass protection and try to keep Romo upright. Without Romo, this team is extremely limited offensively and they would have trouble moving the ball even on the porous of defenses. With Romo, this offense is efficient and good enough to compete with anytime in the league.
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