By Shawn Lealos

CBS Local Sports presents 32 Players in 32 Days, a daily feature focusing on one impact player from each NFL team.

DeMarco Murray – RB – #29
Height: 6’0″
Weight:. 217 lbs.
Age: 26
Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada
College: Oklahoma
Experience: 4 years

The Dallas Cowboys‘ biggest weakness heading into the 2014 NFL season is on the defensive side of the ball. That area was a trouble spot in 2013, before the Cowboys lost their two best defensive players to free agency and then lost the best remaining player to a season-ending injury during off-season workouts. That means that the only way Dallas can win in 2014 is to outscore their opponents.

Dallas proved that they had the firepower to put a lot of points on the board in quick fashion in 2013, but they were often playing in shootouts with their opponents. That will not win a lot of games, and Dallas needs to learn how to slow games down so that they can not only score when needed, but also keep opposing offenses off the field. That is why DeMarco Murray might be the most important player on the Dallas Cowboys team in 2014.

20 or More Carries

In some very impressive trivia, the Dallas Cowboys are 11-0 when DeMarco Murray carries the ball 20 or more times a game. Now, that stat is a little skewed because when Dallas is leading big, they will run the ball more.

Well, they should run the ball more in those cases. In 2013, there were times that Dallas would break out into a big lead and then keep throwing the ball. Dallas lost a lot of those games. When they started feeding Murray the ball, they would hold onto leads and win.

Murray Could Lead the NFL in Rushing

Think about this: In 2013, Murray ran for 1,121 yards and nine touchdowns while playing in 14 games. Only three times did he exceed 20 carries in a game, all wins for Dallas. If Murray can finish the season ranked 10th in rushing yards, while only getting 20 carries three times in the season, imagine the monster numbers he could end up with if the team feeds him the ball when they are supposed to.

If Dallas had given Murray the ball late in the Detroit Lions game last year, the Cowboys not only would have won that game, but they would have made the playoffs at the end of the season. Murray is a huge key for this offense.

Running the Ball Makes the Passing Game Better

Dallas didn’t seem to understand in 2013 that their passing numbers, while great, could have been better if they had run the ball more. Dallas threw the ball 586 times in 2013 while only running the ball 336 times. They ranked 24th in team rushing and 14th in passing. It ended up as one of Tony Romo’s best career years.

Then take a look at the Denver Broncos. They ranked first in the NFL in passing and Peyton Manning finished the season as the NFL’s all-time season leading passer with 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns. Denver threw the ball 675 times and ran the ball 461 times, ranking 15th in rushing yards.

These numbers mean that Dallas had 922 total offensive plays and threw the ball 63.5 percent of the time. Denver had 1,136 total offensive plays and threw the ball only 59.4 percent of the time. Peyton Manning threw the ball in five percent fewer offensive plays than Tony Romo and had the best season of any NFL passer in history. That says that running the ball more will open up the offense for more explosive plays.

Playoffs or Bust

This is it for Jason Garrett and the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff. They are heading into the 2014 NFL season with a crippled and depleted defense, but if they don’t make the playoffs, the coaches will all lose their jobs. Close isn’t good enough, because Dallas has been one game out of the playoffs for three straight seasons. The only way to win games this year is to limit their opponent’s offensive opportunities. The only way to do that is to run the ball more, which makes DeMarco Murray the most important player on the entire Cowboys team. 

Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos.