Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray: Running Towards History and a Win


Dallas Cowboys fans and fantasy owners everywhere love their commitment to the run this season. And they should – running back DeMarco Murray’s performance is one of the key reasons the team has one of the top records in the league thus far and Murray’s stats have been wracking up points for owners week over week.

As the Cowboys take on the reigning Super Bowl champions later today, the Seattle Seahawks,, there are two key questions that arise: 1) Does the game plan change in order to beat the Seahawks? And, partially dependent on the answer to the first question: 2) Will Murray match Jim Brown’s feat and become just the second player in NFL history to notch 100 yards rushing through the first six games of the season?

Facing the best run defense in the league – Seattle has only allowed an average of 62 yards per game and 2.6 yards per attempt thus far – an understandable initial reaction would be that offensive line coach Bill Callahan would rethink how he uses Murray. Seahawk’s head coach Pete Carroll and his coaching staff know exactly how good the offensive line is and their defense is focused on stopping Murray. When discussing the team’s mindset when preparing for this week and their ability to stop Murray, Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright told ESPN Seattle:

"“He’s really good. I give him a lot credit. He puts his head down, fights for extra yardage. He’s good in the open field. We know he’s their guy, and if we stop him, more than likely we’re going to win the game.”"

Despite this, don’t expect Callahan & Co to drastically pivot from what has garnered success thus far, especially on first down where the team is fifth in the league with an average of 6.35 yards gained on first down. The importance of this was broken down by FiveThirtyEight earlier this week

"One of my favorite mini-stats from the Murray first-and-10 data is that Murray has five runs this year of exactly 9 yards, and none of exactly 10 yards. This is smart! Running for 9 yards on first-and-10 outside of 25 yards from the goal is pretty much always better than running for 10. Getting to second-and-short is more valuable than getting a first down because it leads to a flexible situation and forces the defense to prepare for a wider variety of plays.Here’s the easiest way to understand this: A team is trading one down and one yard for the privilege of having only one yard to gain. Since the team will gain that one yard a high percentage of the time, it has a lot of flexibility: It can rush or sneak to try to pick up the first down (and collect bonus yards in the process), or it can launch a deep pass knowing that, barring a sack or a turnover, it will likely still have a short-yardage play on third down. The opponent has to defend everything from short-yardage runs to deep passes at once, meaning it defends each a little worse than usual."

Point being: the Cowboys have made great use of this philosophy and it is working. So while I would anticipate more of an even divide on first downs between the pass and run, I don’t expect it to be a far deviation from the mean.

That leads to the second question: Murray and the 100 – will he get it? My gut says yes. Taking a look at his stats over the first five games, his lowest totals came versus the St. Louis Rams (100) and the San Francisco 49ers (118).

That Murray notched lower totals shouldn’t be surprising given the context of those contests, but that he was still able to reach 100 when the team was losing and behind is telling. The Cowboys continue to believe their run game is extremely effective and unless they are getting completely stuffed at the line and have numerous three-and-outs in a row, Murray will get carries and match Brown.

Readers, what do you think? Will we see a shift to a pass-heavy game? Will DeMarco Murray reach six 100 yard games to start the season? Tell me in the comments section below.