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Cold Hard Football Facts: Cowboys' Felix Jones chases old YPA record

You know the Cold, Hard Football Facts love the old-school game. And you know we love to keep alive the memories of the statistical oddities from NFL history that are routinely overlooked by the pigskin "pundits" who believe John Elway invented football at Stanford in 1981.

So it is today that we officially launch the Beattie Feathers Watch in Dallas.

Feathers, a former Bears back, holds one of the oldest and most impressive records in NFL history -- and it's a milestone that's under assault this season by Dallas rookie phenom Felix Jones.

We discussed Jones in great detail last week: the lone loss of the young season for the Cowboys came against the Redskins in Week 4, in the lone game in which explosive Jones didn't touch the ball once from scrimmage.

Feathers, meanwhile, was a rookie with the 1934 Bears when he produced one of the most remarkable seasons -- rookie or otherwise -- in early NFL annals, ripping off 1,004 yards on just 119 carries.

It was the first 1,000-yard season in NFL history. More impressively, Feathers' average of 8.44 yards per attempt has never been matched by a running back.* (The 1934 Bears, for their part, went 13-0 before falling in the NFL championship game to, you guessed it, the Giants, who were a mere 8-5 that year. Sound familiar?)

* Michael Vick rewrote the official NFL record in 2006, with an average of 8.45 YPA over the course of the season. But, as you know, if a quarterback is tackled behind the line of scrimmage, it's counted as a sack and not against his rushing yardage, thereby making it easier for running quarterbacks to boost their per-carry averages. Running backs don't have that luxury and the average of 8.44 YPA set by Feathers remains the highest mark by a running back.

It was the ultimate one-hit wonder of a season. In fact, you might think of Feathers as the A Flock of Seagulls of football: over the next six seasons of his career, he never topped 350 yards or 5.0 YPA.

But for one year, he was as good lugging the leather as anyone in history.

Fast forward three quarters of a century, and Jones looks like he could threaten the YPA standard set by Feathers back in 1934. The former Razorbacks ball carrier produced another stunning performance last Sunday in Dallas's 31-22 win over Cincinnati.

He produced a game-leading 96 yards on just nine carries. That's a nifty 10.7 YPA for those of you keeping score at home. And that type of number should put a buzz in your bonnet.

Five games into the season, Jones has carried the ball 27 times for an amazing 244 yards. That's an average of 9.04 YPA, and that's a pace that would surpass the standard set by Feathers 74 years ago.

So far, Jones has clearly benefited from being the lightning to the thunder of No. 1 back Marion "The Bull" Barber. He's a classic change-of-pace back, just as he was in Arkansas, where he was overshadowed by Heisman candidate Darren McFadden. But Jones was just as explosive in college: He averaged a stunning 8.74 YPA last year as a junior at Arkansas.

The Cowboys brain trust (even the guys who would bench Doug Flutie before the playoffs) must certainly be impressed by Jones's production so far. So they'll certainly be tempted to hand him the ball more often than they do now. Defenses, meanwhile, will be forced to focus on Jones more intently than they do now.

Both factors could conspire to drop his average per attempt from its current lofty realm. Plus, there's still a lot of football left to play, and early statistical anomalies tend to flatten over time.

But it would be a fascinating moment in league history if the rookie Jones smashed the mark set by the rookie Feathers all those years ago -- at least to the football junkies among us.

Rest assured that the Cold, Hard Football Facts will be watching Jones' assault on history every fleet-footed step of the way.

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