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Reviewing Cowboys Running Back DeMarco Murray’s Career Year

Nobody in the NFL is always right. Even the great Bill Belicheck in New England is wrong on at least one player evaluation a year. But one of the most important aspects in the NFL is knowing when to admit you are wrong. I was wrong about DeMarco Murray in 2013. Last summer, I wrote a piece on The Landry Hat about how I didn’t believe Murray was the type of back that the Cowboys needed for this team. You can view that article here. But before I get into the film on WHY Murray became a better runner, let’s look at how he ran in previous years compared to this season:

Murray 1

As you can see, Murray had a phenomenal year, achieving career highs in games played, attempts, yards, yards after contact and touchdowns. After 2012, everyone knew Murray had talent (even though I questioned how much talent), but he needed to stay healthy. And for the most part, Murray did that in 2013. And the two games that he missed, he lobbied to play in, although he was over-ruled by the team. DeMarco’s rushing stats weren’t the only thing to improve in 2013 either. Take a look at how he did out of the backfield this year:

Murray 2

Murray even became a better receiver in 2013, having his best season in terms of receptions, yards and touchdowns. And looking at his stats is a quick way to see if he improved. But if you want to know why he improved, you have to go back and look at some of the tape to figure out where he improved. DeMarco Murray became a much smarter runner in 2013. Take a look:

 

Murray Real Project

If you look at the play above, the first picture shows that Murray has a clear lane to his right to run through. To fans, that looks like terrific blocking from the Cowboys and in other years, Murray would have taken that run. And just by looking at it, you may be thinking;  well why didn’t he run through that lane? Because DeMarco Murray has learned how to run in a zone-blocking offense. The first open hole, isn’t always the right one. Let me explain.

Linebacker A.J. Hawk (#50) is hidden “in the trash” of the offensive and defensive lineman. Hawk would be in position to make the tackle, along with a cornerback you don’t see in the picture. That would have resulted into a mild gain, possibly five yards. NFL holes close quickly, but they can also open up just as fast. DeMarco Murray sees that his center Travis Frederick and his guard Mackenzy Berneadu have opened a bigger hole down the field and he reads it perfectly. Murray finds the cutback lane and runs for 11 yards and a first down.

In 2013, I saw a lot more of this vision from DeMarco Murray and I have been very critical of his vision in the past. It seems that Murray needed two full seasons in a zone-blocking scheme before he felt truly comfortable. Murray improved drastically in 2013, but  he still has areas in which he can improve, such as ball security (fumble against PHI and dropped pass vs Green Bay). And with the return of Lance Dunbar in 2014, the Dallas Cowboys may finally have answers in the backfield. DeMarco Murray IS in fact, what this team needs (although I argued a few months ago that he wasn’t) and I expect a monster year for him in 2014.

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