The Cowboys need DeMarco Murray to run well ... and to hold onto the ball

Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray understands why he was benched. He respects Jason Garrett’s decision. It doesn’t, however, mean he has to like it.

“It was a little frustrating; I’ve got to be honest,” Murray said Monday. “But I’m just trying to make plays. I’m a competitor. I wasn’t mad at anyone. I wasn’t pouting on the sidelines. I wasn’t anything. I was waiting for my opportunity to get back in the game. Once my number was called, I was ready to play.”

Murray left AT&T Stadium on Saturday without commenting to reporters, still stewing about his first-half benching for fumbling against Cincinnati.

But touchdowns speak louder than words.

Murray returned in the second half with the second-team receivers and backup quarterback Kyle Orton and rushed for 45 yards on eight carries while catching a 7-yard touchdown pass in which he avoided five would-be tacklers on his way to the goal line.

“I don’t care who you are, [fumbles] can’t happen,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “DeMarco is a man. He understands team. He understands what his role is on this football team, and we just felt like that was the right thing to do. And he responded exactly how we thought he’d respond, came back really hard and really well and took care of the rock, and we will keep doing that going forward.”

The Cowboys gave away six turnovers a week ago in a 12-7 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Murray didn’t have a hand in any of them, but Garrett had made turnovers a focal point of practice last week.

The Cowboys tied for 27th in turnover margin last season at minus-13, a big reason they missed the playoffs with an 8-8 record.

“If the ball comes out, we really don’t have a chance to be a good football team,” Garrett said.

So it was Murray who became the example despite only four fumbles, with two lost, in 386 career regular-season touches.

Bengals defensive end Wallace Gilberry stripped Murray on the Cowboys’ second series. Although right tackle Jermey Parnell recovered and Murray stayed in the game until the end of the possession, the third-year running back was removed in favor of backup Phillip Tanner on the team’s next drive.

“We can’t lose the ball,” said Cowboys running back Lance Dunbar, who lost a fumble in the Arizona game. “It’s our ball, the whole team’s ball. [Turnovers are] the biggest part of the game. You’ve got to keep the ball. We’ve been working on that, and we can’t allow it. [Murray’s benching] sent the message, so we’re going to try to keep from doing that.”

Tanner rushed for 39 yards on 14 carries to close out the first half as the Cowboys committed to the run. They vow to run it more and run it better this season after having the fewest rushing yards in a 16-game season in team history. The Cowboys called a running play 31 percent of the time in 2012, and their 1,265 rushing yards made up only 21.1 percent of their offense.

With Bill Callahan in his first year as the play-caller, the Cowboys have had 113 rushes and 128 passes in four preseason games. The first team played 10 series during the preseason, with 25 rushes for 67 yards and 39 passes.

“We need to run the ball better,” Garrett said. “We evaluated how we ran the football last year. We didn’t run it well enough. We didn’t run it enough. We’ve got to become a better running football team. I think adding [rookie center] Travis Frederick, the emergence of [guard] Ron Leary, [tackle/guard] Doug Free, I think all of those things are going to help us run the ball better. We have to be a stronger team on the offensive line. We have to run the ball better. The great teams in this league since Pudge Heffelfinger have been able to run the ball and control the line of scrimmage. You’re doing the smoke and mirrors if you don’t have that.

“We made a concerted effort as an organization to upgrade the personnel and do this better. DeMarco Murray is a big part of it, the guys up front are a part of it. We’ve got to do it better. It’s going to help our offense. It’s going to help our football team.”

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