Murray, Cowboys can run wild

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray's 1,427 rushing yards are 381 more than anyone else in the NFL.

    Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray's 1,427 rushing yards are 381 more than anyone else in the NFL. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 12/2/2014 8:54 PM

The Bears will face their polar opposite Thursday night, a Dallas Cowboys team that is committed to running the ball and does it extremely well.

Behind DeMarco Murray, whose 1,427 rushing yards are 381 more than anyone else in the NFL, the visiting Cowboys are No. 2 in the league in rushing yards with 145.3 per game.

 

The Bears are 26th with an average of 93.2. Dallas also is second with an average of 4.78 yards per rush, while the Bears are 20th at 4.04.

More important, the Cowboys, who finished 8-8 last season, are 8-4 behind an offense that forces opponents to respect the run and the pass equally.

"They've done a really nice job in terms of having balance," said Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. "They're going to call 30 runs, and they're going to call 30 passes. They're extremely committed to running the football."

The Cowboys have run the ball 59.4 percent of the time, compared to 45.6 percent for the Bears.

A healthy Murray is a huge reason for the Cowboys' success on the ground, averaging 5.0 yards per carry and establishing an NFL record by rushing for more than 100 yards in the first eight games of the season.

No one else has ever done it more than six.

But it's not just Murray.

"They do an excellent job from a scheme standpoint," Tucker said. "DeMarco does an excellent job of running the football, (and) they have a very, very good offensive line.

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"They work well as a unit, and they're very talented up front."

Of the Cowboys' five starting offensive linemen, three were first-round draft picks: left tackle Tyron Smith (2011), center Travis Frederick (2013) and right guard Zack Martin (2014). Right tackle Doug Free was a fourth-round pick out of Northern Illinois in 2007.

Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer makes it a point to study other offenses, and he says it's easy to see why the Cowboys are running the ball so well.

"They decided to upgrade their offensive line the last couple years, and they've drafted first-round pick after first-round pick, and that's where they're showing up," Kromer said.

"Their line has stayed healthy, and they've really rejuvenated it with first-round picks, so they have a talented group."

But the focal point is the 6-foot, 217-pound Murray, who also has 44 receptions for 343 yards.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"He's tough, he's got really good speed, he's got good vision, he's really patient, (and) he's a smart player," Tucker said. "He understands the blocking schemes. He understands when to cut, how to press the hole, things like that. Just very talented.

"He's talented in terms of being a receiving threat as well, out of the backfield, screens and check-downs. He's just an all-around player. He gets a lot of touches.

"It seems like he gets better with every touch. He's a relentless competitor."

The Bears have been stout against the run in recent weeks, holding each of their previous three opponents under 100 yards and limiting seven of their last nine foes to less than the league average of 4.2 yards per rush.

Although the Bears' defense has been a disappointment overall, it is a respectable 11th in rushing yards allowed per game at 105.5.

If the Bears can contain Murray, they'll have a better chance of springing an upset on the 8-4 Cowboys, who are a 3½-point favorite, but their run defense will be tested early and often.

"You know that you have to stop the run, and that's regardless of the situation," Tucker said. "Second-and-long, they'll run the ball. First-and-10, they'll run the ball.

"They can be down two scores and still look to run the ball. It makes their play-action very effective."

As a result of the Cowboys' emphasis on the ground game, quarterback Tony Romo is throwing the ball less frequently than ever.

But, also as a result of the Cowboys having a ground game that opponents have to respect, Romo has the highest passer rating (106.2) of his outstanding, 11-year career.

Maybe something the Bears should consider?

• Follow Bob's Bears and NFL reports on Twitter@BobLeGere.

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