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Breaking Down RB DeMarco Murray's Recent Struggles

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Breaking Down RB DeMarco Murray's Recent Struggles
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Dallas Cowboys second year running back DeMarco Murray.

Going back to last season, then-rookie running back DeMarco Murray established himself as a better all-around ball-carrier for the Dallas Cowboys than Felix Jones beginning Week 7. Setting a career high in carries with 25 and a franchise record in yards with 253, all eyes focused on Murray’s rehabilitation from an ankle injury suffered against the Giants last season. From there, it should have been onward and upward for Murray, right?

Well, no.

One quarter into the 2012 NFL regular season, Murray has a single rushing touchdown. And it’s not like his body even reached the end zone as he dove for the corner pylon and just barely got the call.

No, finding pay dirt is not emerging as a strong point for the second-year running back out of Oklahoma.

The easy thing to do would be to try looking into what he’s doing wrong in order to fix the issue. After all, he’s the guy carrying the rock, right?

Well, a deep look into the problem sheds a ton of light on what exactly is going on here, and the numbers I dug up just don’t lie.

Earlier this month, the Dallas Morning News really hit the nail on the head regarding what the biggest problem for Murray actually is.

No, the problem here is not the player or mechanics or inexperience or anything like that. This problem is much more difficult to fix than simply reviewing tape and actually scouting Murray’s performance.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Murray scores his only touchdown of 2012 on Week 3 against the Buccanneers.

Murray’s problem is Jason Calvin Garrett, the third-year Dallas head coach that simply refuses to commit to any kind of running attack, period.

You can say that the offensive line has been revamped and that the NFL is a passing league now and blah, blah, blah.

Yes, the offensive line is in fundamental change, and I’ll hit on that in a minute.

But no, the NFL is not a passing league. This will only become true once handing the ball off becomes illegal procedure, and I figure handyman Roger Goodell should start that campaign by 2015. Until then, however, the NFL is a running league, period.

You think San Francisco has revitalized its franchise by having quarterback Alex Smith sling the ball around 50 times per game?

Think again.

Good to great passing offenses will always win games, but they will not often win championships. In recent seasons, the NFL has seen some of the gaudiest passing stats ever seen, yet the teams that can grind out the tough yards on the ground are the ones winning Super Bowls.

Garrett hasn’t gotten this memo despite having played with the greatest running back of all-time, Hall of Fame tailback and NFL rushing champ Emmitt Smith.

Wow.

The good news is that despite that one rushing touchdown from Murray in 2012 against Tampa Bay, Dallas is still on pace to basically match last year’s season total of five rushing touchdowns. It needs to kick it up a notch because right now, that pace is only four, and I don’t see a bright future on the ground in the coming weeks.

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh gets the most of of Alex Smith by running the ball.

Murray doesn’t have a problem other than the guy calling the plays, and obviously, the one signing the checks and drafting players. These, of course, are Garrett and owner and general manager Jerry Jones.

Jones simply refuses to draft any blue-chip talent for the trenches on either side of the ball. He instead chooses to sign expensive veterans from other teams who just aren’t that good.

Whether it be Marco Rivera, Kyle Kosier, Nate Livings or Mackenzy Bernadeau, it’s a safe bet that Jones, days away from 70 years old, doesn’t remember names like Larry Allen, Erik Williams or Mark Stepnoski, just a few offensive linemen that made championships possible for his franchise 20 years ago. Guys like this also kept Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman from being labeled a bust beyond his third season because he finally stayed healthy all the way through the regular season—and won the Super Bowl, by the way.

Murray is an all-around back who has the strength, physicality and athleticism to make big things happen in the open field and in between the tackles. But these attributes are pretty much wasted because the blocking up front is so bad that defenders get into the backfield too quickly and far too often for Murray to chew up yards, control the clock and just make plays.

And Murray isn’t the only one who has suffered.

Since Emmitt Smith left Dallas following the 2002 regular season, Dallas has had one running back reach 1,000 yards rushing, that being Julius Jones with his 1,084 in 2006. With Bill Parcells still the head coach, Dallas not only made the playoffs that year, but had finally reached some continuity on an offensive line that wasn’t exactly a world-beater.

Rookie Larry Allen on Monday Night Football in 1994.

The year after, Garrett arrived as offensive coordinator even before the hiring of Wade Phillips as the succeeding head coach for Parcells. And with that move, out went any kind of commitment to the running game.

Whether it be Marion Barber (now retired), Felix Jones, Tashard Choice or Murray, the holes just aren’t there for anything to happen on a regular basis. Further, the commitment to running plays isn’t there either, so there’s no reason to wonder what’s wrong with any of the Dallas running backs in recent years.

For the Cowboys, offense is really simple. If they don’t score from beyond the red zone, they probably kick a field goal or turn the ball over. This is because there’s no way to keep moving the ball as the field gets smaller and the rest is elementary.

You realize that one season, Smith had 25 rushing touchdowns all by himself? Not coincidentally, this was the last season Dallas won the Super Bowl.

And there was Garrett on the sidelines watching it all unfold as a backup quarterback.

Sure, running backs come and go, especially in the NFL these days. Probably the safest record in all of sports is Smith’s rushing total of 18,355. What running back will stay with the same team and with the same linemen long enough to even come close?

Obviously, any running back playing in Dallas with Garrett calling plays won’t even reach the discussion because he believes that slinging the ball around the yard 45-55 times per game is the way to get it done.

This is why Garrett’s record as head coach is a mere 15-13.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Former Dallas running back Julius Jones.

Garrett's record as offensive coordinator without the title of head coach?

Try 34-22. Better, but certainly not the stuff of legacy or anything.  

It is one week up, the next week down, and Garrett has been around long enough to have fixed personnel and/or philosophical deficiencies.

It’s injured quarterbacks and lots of penalties to go with too many turnovers.

No, Murray is not the problem, and don’t kid yourself by believing otherwise.

Murray was the successor to Minnesota stud running back Adrian Peterson at Oklahoma, and all he did was shatter pretty much all of Peterson’s records.

I’m not saying Murray is better than A.D.

But I’m not saying that he might not be either.

Garrett would not know the difference between the two.

Murray has shown that if he reaches the second level or open field, it’s a beautiful thing! Perhaps you missed his first professional touchdown in last season’s meeting with the Rams when he got essentially his first meaningful playing time behind starter Choice when Felix Jones was injured and ruled out.

Prior to that performance against St. Louis, Murray tallied a five-game total—as a third-stringer, mind you—of 25 carries for 73 yards.

And then, boom!

And nice job of scouting by Garrett!

The Dallas offensive line is struggling much more than Murray, and time will tell if this unit can somehow come together in time for the Cowboys to have a shot at postseason play for the first time in three seasons.

But Garrett simply doesn’t get it. His philosophy is greatly flawed, and he’s not even a very good play caller to begin with.

And this is why Murray is struggling.  

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