To say DeMarco Murray’s absence was felt the past six weeks would clearly be an understatement. An understatement illuminated by his most recent performance Sunday evening. Numbers say he ran the ball 23 times for 83 yards equaling a modest 3.6 per carry average. To those who watched the game, DeMarco Murray’s return was much more impactful than that misleading 3.6 yards per carry average. Murray was a force to be reckoned with. He was highly impactful providing a legitimate running game to a team well known for not having any semblance of a running game.
When Murray first fell to injury in week 4 it appeared former first round pick Felix Jones would be a suitable fill-in. Murray’s injury did not appear to be dire and he was expected back after a couple weeks of rest and rehab. Unfortunately Murray’s injury dragged on and the recovery time was much longer than originally expected. Also discovered, the talent delta between DeMarco and Felix was substantially wider than first thought. In the six games DeMarco was out, Felix Jones was unable to provide any sort of stability or threat. In fact he has been such a non-factor Dallas slipped to last in rushing before Sunday’s game.
DeMarco Murray has a sensational speed and power combination. He can bull rush for a first down, bounce one outside and turn the corner, dive over the top, or juke a defender out of his spikes. DeMarco adds an element very few playmakers in the league can. For the first time in six weeks the Cowboys had a short yardage running game. On Sunday they converted on 3rd and 1 and 4th and 1 by running the ball. Without Murray in the lineup those would have been passing plays and punts.
To be an effective ball-controlling offense, a team must be a legitimate threat to achieve a first down in short yardage situations by running the ball. The Cowboys did not have that and every defense Dallas faced knew it. With Murray’s return – it all changes.
Murray is able to be effective when the offensive line is not. While this was one of the offensive line’s better run-blocking games this season, they haven’t been quite so effective in the past. Regardless of who has been running the ball this season it’s been fairly common to see defenders meet the running back 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage. It’s difficult for even the best RB’s to succeed in that situation. Felix Jones isn’t good enough to overcome offensive line deficiencies but DeMarco Murray is.
The threat of Murray in the run game gives Dallas something it hasn’t had since early in the season: Balance. Balance in the NFL doesn’t need to be 50% run/50% pass (only three teams in the NFL average 50% or greater in running attempts) but for the Cowboys it needs to be much closer to 50/50 than it currently stands. The Cowboys are averaging 34.71% running plays. Depending on a particular team’s strengths, to be successful, teams usually need to average around 42% run plays/ 58% pass plays (It’s still a passing league of course).
Take the past three Super Bowl winners for example: Last year the New York Giants called 39.82% run plays. The year before the Green Bay Packers averaged 42.39% run plays. The year before that the New Orleans Saints called 44.84% run plays. This doesn’t mean teams need to run the ball at all costs -The running game must be effective in order to justify it. In those same Super Bowl years the Giants, Packers, and Saints all averaged 93.6, 100.5, and 126.1 respectively (compared to Dallas’s current 82.4 yards per game average). They all could effectively run the ball and used the running game to complement their passing game. Of those three, only the Saints averaged in the top half of the league in rushing yards per game. That simply says the running game only needs to be respectable to have a chance. A team doesn’t need to dominate in the run game but it must be able to use it when it needs to. Dallas was not able to before DeMarco returned – plain and simple.
With DeMarco back that all has changed. DeMarco gives the Cowboys something they haven’t had most of this season: Balance. And balance gives the Cowboys a chance.