Cowboys' running game still seeking groove without Murray
IRVING, Texas (AP) Travis Frederick didn't think the Dallas offensive line deserved much credit after a quick start in the running game against Atlanta gave the impression the Cowboys had figured out life without DeMarco Murray.
The second half proved the Pro Bowl center right, with defenders erasing the huge running lanes Joseph Randle followed in the first half. Atlanta held the Cowboys to minus-4 yards rushing after halftime.
So the questions linger, made more acute by the need for Randle and Darren McFadden - and their blockers - to help backup quarterback Brandon Weeden manage the offense until Tony Romo returns from a broken left collarbone, probably in November.
''To be honest, we weren't really playing that well as an offensive line,'' Frederick said. ''The way that things were working out, we weren't clean on things.''
Weeden's performance has dominated talk since the Cowboys couldn't hold three 14-point leads in a 39-28 loss to the Falcons that ended a six-game winning streak in the regular season. Dallas (2-1) visits New Orleans (0-3) on Sunday night.
But Weeden's inability to beat Atlanta with downfield throws in his ninth straight loss as a starter was partly because of poor running plays on earlier downs. Dallas also didn't have the ball much, running just 19 second-half plays while Atlanta used the equivalent of a quarter on three touchdown drives totaling 28 plays.
''We couldn't pop a good one,'' Weeden said. ''You don't need 8, 9, 10 yards. You just need 3, 4, 5 to get it going on first and second down. We had a hard time doing that. It's going to be a point for us, running the football. We've got to be better on first and second down.''
Randle had 85 yards on his first three carries, including a 37-yard touchdown when he made a couple of linebackers miss. But he had 2 yards on his last 11 runs, with little room to maneuver once he had the ball.
''I think it was totally us,'' All-Pro right guard Zack Martin said. ''They really didn't give us any different looks. We just weren't able to execute there.''
Praise has been frequent for an offensive line featuring three first-round picks since 2011, all of them Pro Bowl players in Frederick, Martin and left tackle Tyron Smith. The unit helped Murray win the NFL rushing title with a franchise-record 1,845 yards last year, and was a big reason the Cowboys let Murray go to Philadelphia in free agency.
Now the questions revolve around whether the linemen got enough work together in the preseason because of various injuries. They were flagged nine times in a Week 2 win at Philadelphia and failed to follow through on the fast start against the Falcons.
''Nobody plays as well as they're capable of playing. We're always striving for more,'' coach Jason Garrett said. ''We have guys who work the right way. They come to practice, they work hard, they play well together, they're tough, they run block well, they pass block well.''
Martin's critique was more direct.
''I think there's a lot of things to get better on,'' he said.
In both of Weeden's starts for Dallas - the other was last year against Arizona - the opponent stacked the line of scrimmage and forced him to win with his arm, which he couldn't do. This time he doesn't have the threat of Murray. But he has faith in the replacements.
''We've got the firepower there to be explosive,'' Weeden said. ''We're in a good situation there.''
With still plenty of proving to do.
NOTES: DE Jeremy Mincey didn't practice Wednesday, according to the official report, but said he did some work and expects to return after missing last week with a concussion. ... CB Brandon Carr missed practice for an unspecified reason unrelated to injury.
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