ST. LOUIS – Even while attending the birth of a daughter earlier this week, James Laurinaitis had DeMarco Murray on the brain.
The St. Louis Rams middle linebacker cradled the baby in one arm. With the other, to the amusement of his wife, he watched Dallas Cowboys game tape on the team-issued Ipad.
"She took a picture laughing at me," Laurinaitis said.
To be fair, it's tough to blame anyone on the defense for spending too much time studying tendencies of a running back they're chasing in their dreams.
Murray rushed for 175 yards and a touchdown last year, and in 2011 he rolled up a franchise-record 253 yards, including a 91-yard jaunt, both times proving a key to Cowboys victories.
"It hurts your pride a lot," Laurinaitis said. "He's gotten so many yards on defenses you've been a part of, and you see what he's done this year as well."
Murray leads the NFL with 285 yards rushing and is second with a 5.6-yard average. That's a lot bigger deal than what he's done against St. Louis in the past.
"Honestly, I can't remember," Murray said. "I don't look at those games because there's a lot of new guys on the team. A similar defense, but I'm not looking at those games."
The Rams have had their share of trouble with other backs, too. In the opener they held Adrian Peterson to 75 yards on 21 carries, but it was a hollow achievement considering wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson gained 102 yards on just three carries, including the back-breaking 67-yard touchdown.
Peterson had 212 yards rushing against St. Louis in 2012. Last year, Frank Gore had 153 yards, Chris Johnson piled up 150 yards with two touchdowns, and Arian Foster had 141 yards.
Things to watch for in Cowboys-Rams:
QB QUESTION: The Rams have three Austins on the team. Until last week, Austin Davis was the least known and well behind a pair of wide receivers, speedy game-changer Tavon Austin and clutch Austin Pettis.
Davis, who's hung around for parts of three seasons with St. Louis, is suddenly the people's choice. Since winning his first career start last week at Tampa Bay, there's been a groundswell of support, and a general willingness to give veteran Shaun Hill one more week to recuperate from a quadriceps injury that left him hopping on one foot on a critical interception against Minnesota.
The Rams have a bye next week and if Davis leads another win, Fisher might have to revisit plans to save the starting job for whenever Hill's healthy. The 34-year-old Hill's a fan of Davis, too.
"I told him how great he did," Hill said. "That was the only evaluation you could come up with for that game. He played wonderful."
ROMO VS. RAMS: Though the Cowboys have leaned on Murray the last two victories against St. Louis, quarterback Tony Romo has been instrumental, too. He's 3-0 as a starter against the Rams.
Because of all the running success, Romo ranks near the bottom of the NFL in passing and has more interceptions (3) than touchdown passes (2).
"I think things will develop and open up if we're able to continue to run the ball like we've done, which I think we'll have a great opportunity for this year," Romo said. "You'll start to be able to do some of the things that will give you an advantage off of that stuff."
NO SUSPENSION: Both teams got a player back early under terms of the new performance enhancing drug policy, and both Dallas cornerback Orlando Scandrick and St. Louis wide receiver Stedman Bailey could be immediate factors. They could line up against each other, too.
Scandrick started a career-high 15 games last season, and said, "I want to pick up where I left off. All of my goals, my season goals, are right ahead of me."
Bailey emerged late in the season at wide receiver after impressing much of the year on special teams. Bailey could replace Austin, his former West Virginia teammate, who injured his right knee last week.
While suspended, Bailey ran routes with his personal trainer, who's also a former high school quarterback.
"It's not like Shaun Hill or one of the guys throwing to me, but he did the best he could and I was able to get some accurate balls," Bailey said.
LINEBACKER WOES: The Cowboys could be minus their top two options at middle linebacker with Rolando McClain and Justin Durant nursing groin injuries.
Rookie fourth-rounder Anthony Hitchens is a potential replacement, although veteran Bruce Carter could be moved to the middle as someone else starts on the strong side. Or, the Cowboys could play a lot more nickel defense.
NO SAM: Not surprisingly, Michael Sam will not be playing against the team that had the courage to draft him. Sam is getting up to speed on the Dallas practice squad.
"So sometimes it's hard for young guys to get opportunities," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "He's certainly in the mix."
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