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Better weapon: Great line (Cowboys) or talented backs (Eagles)?

The debate might be as old as leather helmets and it definitely predates soccer-style kickers. It might have been at its height in the 1990s, when two of the greatest running backs ever - Dallas' Emmitt Smith and Detroit's Barry Sanders - played the game.

Eagles running back DeMarco Murray. (Clem Murray/Staff file photo)
Eagles running back DeMarco Murray. (Clem Murray/Staff file photo)Read more

The debate might be as old as leather helmets and it definitely predates soccer-style kickers. It might have been at its height in the 1990s, when two of the greatest running backs ever - Dallas' Emmitt Smith and Detroit's Barry Sanders - played the game.

The burning question then and now: Does the running back make the offensive line or is it the offensive line that makes the running back?

It is an argument that will be fueled during the next season by the Eagles and the Cowboys.

Dallas owner Jerry Jones made the bold declaration a couple of weeks ago that he believes the Cowboys will have a better running game in 2015 than they did in 2014, when DeMarco Murray rushed for a franchise-record 1,845 yards and a league-leading 13 touchdowns.

Murray, of course, now plays for the Eagles after signing a five-year, $40 million contract during free agency. As things stand right now, the Cowboys have four running backs on their roster with NFL experience. Darren McFadden, Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar, and Ryan Williams have a combined 5,242 career rushing yards, which is just 716 more than Murray accumulated in four seasons as the Cowboys' featured back.

McFadden spent seven seasons with the Oakland Raiders, but last year marked the first time he played in all 16 games. You name an injury and he has had it. The other three Cowboys running backs are just guys.

What Dallas still does have, however, is a stud offensive line, one that reminds a lot of people of the 1990s front that opened gaping holes for Smith as he compiled most of the yards that eventually would place him at the top of the NFL's Mount Rushmore. Three first-round picks - left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick, and right guard Zach Martin - have produced three Pro Bowlers and given Jones the confidence that his offense can overcome the loss of the best running back.

The Cowboys did not draft a running back, but they've become so enamored with offensive linemen that they added LSU's La'el Collins as an undrafted free agent after the draft. Collins was considered a first-round talent before he was interviewed by police following the killing of his former girlfriend. He was never considered a suspect in the case, but he may have become the rookie steal of the offseason.

Maybe Jones also still thinks he can get Adrian Peterson, whose twisted saga has continued with the six-time Pro Bowler squawking about not getting enough support from the NFL and Minnesota Vikings after he was arrested on felony child-abuse charges. Peterson is a native Texan who has made it clear he'd love to play for the Cowboys, but the Vikings, at least right now, are saying he'll play in Minnesota or nowhere.

If Dallas does not get Peterson, it will be fascinating to see what impact Murray's departure has on the Cowboys' running game.

It will be equally interesting to see what impact Murray has on the Eagles, who led the league in rushing and average yards per carry in 2013 but slipped significantly in both those categories in 2014. A lot of people blamed the instability of an aging offensive line, but Eagles coach Chip Kelly opted to do nothing about that area of his offense during free agency and the draft.

After the draft was over, the coach said the offensive linemen he considered drafting in each round were gone by the time the Eagles selected. That leaves the Eagles with Jason Peters, 33, at left tackle, Evan Mathis, 33, at left guard, Jason Kelce, 27, at center, a competition at right guard, and Lane Johnson, 25, at right tackle. It's not bad, but it's not as good as the Cowboys, either.

"I think you look at our line in terms of being able to go play this season, I think we're excited about this group," Kelly said. "We do have to address it as we move forward in the future and then maybe there's one or two or three or four guys that we sign here that are undrafted guys that will have an opportunity, like Matt Tobin, who has come in here and made our team as an undrafted guy. That's kind of the direction we're going to go, at least this year."

Unlike the Cowboys, the Eagles have a lot of quality at running back, and Kelly's scheme should be their friend. Ryan Mathews was better in his five seasons with San Diego than McFadden was in his seven years with Oakland, and Kelly should find a way to get the ball to Darren Sproles more often as a receiver in his second season with the Eagles.

The Eagles threw 621 passes last season, which were 113 more than the year before. You get the impression Kelly likes the 2013 number a lot more than the 2014 one, and that's why he acquired Murray. That's why we are going to find out if Murray's great 2014 season was more about him or the Dallas offensive line. We are also going to find out a lot more about that Dallas offensive line.

Sanders, by the way, was better than Smith.