Week 7 of 2011, the Dallas Cowboys traveled to St. Louis for a date with the Rams, Felix Jones was out and DeMarco Murray got his chance. What did he do with that chance? Oh he just had 25 carries for 253 yards and broke Emmitt Smith’s record for rushing yards in a single game. Murray then followed up that performance with 466 yards earned in 3 games. In Week 10, Murray had 20 carries for 135 yards in a complete rout of the Buffalo Bills. In week 14 however Murray fractured his ankle ending his season prematurely. DeMarco Murray came back healthy for the 2012 Season but also ended up missing 6 weeks due to injuries. Is Murray injury prone? We don’t know the true answer to that question but one thing we do know is that these Dallas Cowboys are 8-0 when Murray has 20 or more carries. That stat alone is what leads many to the easy conclusion; get him the rock.
December 30, 2012; Landover, MD, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray (29) warms up prior to the Washington Redskins game against the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
There are many things that this team has struggled with in recent memory but finishing dead last in rushing last year has got to be the biggest factor in the Cowboys ability to win football games. The truth is that if your one-dimensional, opposing teams figure you out, when you get figured out, you’re not very effective. It’s safe to say that this is a situation that must be addressed for any result other than 8-8 in 2013. This running game is not new to this underachievement. Since Tony Romo has been at the helm of this offense, the Cowboys have failed to produce a 1,000 yard rusher. This must change before this team is going to be able to climb out of the depths of mediocrity.
The Dallas Cowboys main issue the past few seasons is not just injury based. The depth and production of these backs is what really come into question. Marion Barber was a power runner who was worn down as expected, Felix Jones was a change-of-pace back that was thrust into a role he wasn’t built to do, and Tashard Choice made too many boneheaded decisions that got him placed squarely on the bench then out of the locker room entirely. DeMarco Murray is that workhorse back that Dallas has wanted. His One-Cut style is perfect for an offense with less than stellar Offensive Line Play. He has the ability to create his own lanes and that downhill style to break one on occasion. However, running backs get injured more often than not and the Cowboys just haven’t had the guy to shoulder that load in Murray’s absence.
Felix Jones is now gone to Philadelphia, and these coaches replaced him with another workhorse type of back in Joseph Randle. The Cowboys spent a 5th round pick, and very intelligently in my opinion to give this offense the dimension it’s lacked. Tony Romo can do some really amazing things, but when forced to throw as much as he was at times in 2012, any quarterback would throw 19 interceptions; just ask Drew Brees. Jason Garrett has always attempted to run a balanced style of offense, he just has lacked the production in the running game, which often leads to forcing Romo to be Aaron Rodgers, which in no disrespect to Romo; he’s not. Joseph Randle will open up options for this team as insurance, but DeMarco Murray is the difference.
DeMarco Murray is a dynamic player not only in the running picture but in the passing game as well. Many of you may not know but The Dallas Cowboys also ranked dead last in play-action too. To have any success in play-action you must be able to effectively run the football. Play-Action is in my opinion one of the greatest offensive tools in football. It gives you that split second where the defense thinks it’s a run and then you give your receiver that second to break away from the secondary; the end result can be that 46 yard bomb to Dez Bryant for 7 points. Murray is that boost this team is going to need in play-action. If healthy, which is a big if lately; Murray could open this playbook wide-open. There is a lot of talk about the Erhardt-Perkins Offense and the 12 personnel formations, but Callahan is a balanced Offensive Coordinator and I’m certain that he will try to add some toughness to this offense. The best way for him to accomplish that toughness level is by having a solid running game.
This E-P offense is friendly for the Offensive Lineman but is especially helpful for the speedy, and dynamic players on offense such as Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and you guessed it; DeMarco Murray. Now Murray most likely will be without the help of a traditional fullback if rumors are true, but One-Cut runners don’t necessarily need that position anyhow. Often times last season Vickers wasn’t effective for this running game either, he’s a stand-up guy but just probably not a great fit in Dallas. Murray did have a lot of success with Tony Fiammetta, but again those “mysterious migraines” will give any Coach pause and ultimately force that decision that he’s not right either. Travis Frederick is going to be a lot of help to Murray with his physical and aggressive demeanor. Murray’s best plays have often come right up the middle of the field. By having someone who has a “mauler” type label will only serve Murray well.
The Battle of Bedlam Backfield as it has been so accurately named has a really good chance of being that spark to lift this offense to new heights. If one of these Tight-Ends can emerge as a decent blocker and H-Back then this has the making of a pretty lethal combination for those defenses come Sundays. There also are lots of positive notes coming out regarding Philip Tanner and Lance Dunbar. Dunbar is that change-of-pace back that many offenses in this league like to keep around, not to mention that he’s pretty good on Special Teams. Tanner may be the odd man out in this Training Camp Battle if it comes down to a numbers game; but don’t rule him out just yet, he may show something in goal-line formations. After all, this team has struggled in the red-zone leading them to draft that 6’5 San Diego State Tight End Gavin Escobar. If Tanner can get the ball across that line 2 or 3 times in this upcoming preseason, give the man a spot.
In truth, this team will really ascend the rankings if these offensive coaches put that emphasis on Murray, Randle and Company. Honestly, I believe they will, coaches like Callahan and Garrett have been commended on their ability to evaluate talent. That is precisely why the running game suffered so mightily when Murray was out because Felix was out-of-place in that “Feature-Back” role. Garrett then relied heavily on Tony because I believe deep down he knew that was his best option. Positives came out of that heavy passing game as the Cowboys found out they have a pretty good group of receivers with an all-out beast in Dez Bryant and Dwayne Harris developed nicely, to top the cake they drafted Terrance Williams. This team is looking more and more solid with each column I research for. Now as I always say that doesn’t mean they will prove me right but at this point I can’t remember a time where Training Camp and Preseason Football had me so enthusiastic.
Training Camp is a mere 15 days away and as I’m writing this and looking at my plane tickets to Oxnard, my mouth is beginning to water with the excitement. I will be keeping a steady eye on the practices during that first weekend, searching for answers to my hypotheses. For you fine folks here at The Landry Hat, I will be tweeting like crazy so follow me on twitter and feel free to ask any questions or just read the information I will be dishing out. One thing is absolutely certain, my eyes will be glued to the progression of the offensive line and how it relates to the opportunities for these running backs, and especially Murray. It’s been quite a while since The Dallas Cowboys have had such potential in this position, and though backs these days don’t come in packages such as Emmitt Smith or Adrian Peterson, it’s worth noting that nobody is asking that of DeMarco Murray; which is a major reason he may surprise the lot of us in 2013.