DeMarco Murray has had an historic start to the 2014 season, with five straight 100-yard games. Despite the success, the Cowboys plan to dial back the running back's usage to keep him healthy and fresh for the end of the year ... and beyond
Question for Dallas running back DeMarco Murray, an hour after his fifth straight 100-yard game to start the NFL season: “Can you survive a season when you’re running as much as you’ve run so far?"
Answer by Murray: “I think I can. I’m in the cold tub right now. Taking care of myself."
Murray’s been amazing in the first five weeks of the season. He’s the first running back since O.J. Simpson in 1975 to rush for 100 yards in each of his first five games. His 670 rushing yards is 210 more than any runner in football, and he’s apace to break the all-time single-season rushing mark of 2,105 held by Eric Dickerson. At this rate, Murray will run for 2,144 … but it’s unlikely this will continue to be the rate.
Murray, 26, has already rushed the ball 130 times this year. The fourth-year pro’s career high is 217 rushes, and at this rate, he’d almost double that. Which sounds like it won’t happen. “We think it's probably too many carries in the game, week in and week out," Dallas coach Jason Garrett said Monday. "He ended up with 31 [Sunday against Houston] so we'd like to get that number lower. I don't see any wear and tear in DeMarco but having said that, we want to make sure we create a rotation and we'll focus on doing that in the next few weeks."
It’s smart. In his three previous NFL seasons Murray has missed 11 games with knee, ankle and foot injuries. Garrett on Monday made it sound like backups Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar would be getting more touches starting Sunday in Seattle. Each has 11 rushes this year.
"We've got to make sure we take care of him over the course of the season," said Garrett.
It’s interesting how the game has changed. A generation ago, it wasn’t surprising to see a back carry it 20 to 25 times a game. Today, it’s almost cause to call the authorities if a back rushes 25 times in a game. This, of course, has all happened because Murray, both inside the tackles with his power game and outside where he uses his speed and shoulder-lowering power, has been one of the league’s two or three most valuable players in the first five weeks.
Dallas has gotten nowhere but the middle of the pack by handing the ball to Tony Romo for the last three seasons. The Cowboys threw on 64.9 percent of the snaps last year and struggled to reach 8-8. So the Cowboys this year decided to go more with the run, and it’s worked well in the team’s 4-1 start. They’ve passed on 50.8 percent of the downs, a significant boost in run reliance.
So the Cowboys have gotten smart on offense, making sure Romo doesn’t ruin their chances by turning it over too much. And with the exception of Murray fumbling it four times in the first five games, it’s been a smart strategy.
“We’re finding different ways to win," Murray said. “You can’t blow out everybody in this league. The NFL is hard. But whether they want me to run it 30 times or 10 times in a game, I don’t care. I can handle whatever the load is. Whatever they ask me to do, as long we win, I’m fine with it."
I always wonder if players who are so hot, and who are on the road to all-time numbers care about the numbers. Some do, some don’t. I tried and plied Murray several different ways about the historic start to his season—Simpson and Jim Brown are the only backs pre-Murray to have rushed for 100 yards in their first five games of a season—but he wasn’t biting.
“Is 2,000 yards, or the all-time record, significant to you?" I asked.
“Those are things I don’t worry about or think about," Murray said. “At this time of year, I basically have tunnel vision. Take it one play at a time, one step at a time. I pride myself as being a complete player—running, blocking and catching. It’s so important to me to be the best blocker I can be. So if I have a good day running the ball but missed a block, I’m not going to be happy about that."
Not much not to be happy about so far for Murray. Now Garrett has to do the right thing, starting Sunday in Seattle: be sure he keeps his franchise back upright for 11 more games.
About Last Night …
Seattle 27, Washington 17. Russell Wilson did what Russell Wilson does so well—he took what the defense gave him at FedEx Field, and made some balletic plays (such as the pirouetting-left-out-of-the-pocket-away-from-Ryan Kerrigan-and-rainbow-throw to Marshawn Lynch that led to the clinching field goal) to lead to the win. He rushed for 122 yards, most in Monday night history by a quarterback, and evaded a smart Washington picket-fence rush—with lane discipline, forcing Wilson to be at his most athletic to make anything happen most of the night. “Amazing game," said Pete Carroll. “Running and throwing and scrambling and making things happen. He continues to find ways to improve. We’re lucky to have him on our side." It’s not just the running: He’s completed 70 percent of his throws, with just one interception in five games.