Fluke or Franchise: Breaking Down DeMarco Murray's Record-Setting Day

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterOctober 27, 2011

DeMarco Murray, a rookie third-rounder out of Oklahoma, shocked fans and foes of the Dallas Cowboys with his record-setting performance this past week against the St. Louis Rams.

Murray torched the Rams for 253 yards on 25 carries. Have the Dallas Cowboys found their long-awaited replacement for Emmitt Smith, or was Murray's breakout game a flash in the pan?

There's only way to find out. Let's go to the film and check out three of Murray's big plays from the day.

Some perspective first, though. The St. Louis Rams were 0-5 coming into this game and had allowed 27 points per game. The 1985 Bears they are not.

This is the reason some are questioning whether Murray's outstanding production is a credit to his talent or a discredit to the Rams defense.


Play 1

Here we see a coaches' film look at the pre-snap setup of the play. St. Louis is in a base nickel page—four down lineman, two linebackers, three cornerbacks and two safeties.

Make note of the position of the safeties and linebackers as Romo begins his cadence—they both drop back away from the ball, and the strong safety shifts himself into position between the two wide receivers split at the top of the screen.

Even before the play begins, the Rams defenders are in horrible position.

This is a zone run, and when Murray takes the handoff he sees there is very little backside presence from the defense. He makes a smart move by cutting back and lowering his shoulder for contact with the cornerback, who has stepped into the hole. The corner makes a bad effort and is run over.

Because of the way the defense shifted pre-snap and the poor reads of the defense, Murray has no one left to beat in the open field after running over the cornerback.

Credit Murray for making a nice cutback, which may have been designed, and for running over the cornerback.

The rest was the defense's fault. I would bet that 75 percent of NFL running backs can make this same exact play.


Play 2

Let's take two looks at Murray's signature run from the day, a 91-yard burst through the St. Louis defense for a score. We have the coaches' look and the television broadcast.

From the coaches' film, we see immediately the Rams in a 4-3 base defense and that the safeties are playing 10-11 yards off the ball, which is standard.

The Rams have chosen to double-cover Dez Bryant at the top of the screen, which puts the strong safety on an island in the middle of the field.

Dallas runs a delayed handoff, which freezes the safeties and the linebackers. You can see at the top of the screen that free safety Quintin Mikell drives hard on Bryant's route, and that the free safety sees the run and starts to come out of his drop.

The hole in the middle of the Rams defense is big enough to drive two trucks through.

All Murray has to do is hit the hole hard and then swivel his hips twice to throw off out-of-position tackles (who weren't even breaking down to make a tackle), and he's running to daylight.

Here is the broadcast version of the play, which shows the huge hole in the St. Louis defense.


Play 3

The Cowboys line up here in a heavy set, with two tight ends and a fullback against a base 4-3 defense for the Rams. Advantage, Dallas.

Dallas motions Jason Witten to the left and then pitches the ball to Murray going that same direction. The trick in this play is that the offensive line gets upfield to wall off linebackers, letting Witten and wide receiver Miles Austin crack down on the safety who read the play correctly.

The blocking on this play is textbook, and Murray isn't touched for the first 10 yards. Another big gain, but again, very little extra effort from Murray.


Final Thoughts

DeMarco Murray is an exciting young back with a load of talent.

He left Oklahoma as an accomplished runner, receiver and return man who could have been drafted higher if not for injuries throughout his career.

Was this a breakout game and the first in a career of dominance for Murray?

I don't see it.

Murray did what any NFL-level running back should do against a defense so out of position and playing with so little fire. The Rams defenders simply did not want to tackle Murray this day.

The comparisons to Emmitt Smith should stop with the fact that they have both played running back in Dallas. Emmitt would have put 400 yards on a defense playing this poorly.


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