Something strange is going on around the Dallas Cowboys.
Not inside the organization, where the team is percolating along with a 5-1 record and playing the best football of the Jason Garrett era.
It’s the chatter about the team coming from outside voices that is strange and ridiculous.
You may have noticed that the Cowboys are coming off a 30-23 win over the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. In that game, running back DeMarco Murray punished the best defense in football with 115 rushing yards. It was the sixth straight game from the start of the season that Murray has exceeded the 100-yard mark.
The only other running back in league history to accomplish that was Jim Brown, only the best running back in the history of the sport.
Murray is the leading rusher in the NFL with 785 yards and six touchdowns, a mere 243 yards ahead of Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell, who is in second place. Murray is averaging 4.9 yards per carry and has caught 21 passes from Tony Romo for 155 yards.
Nobody is happier about Murray’s performance than Romo, who had been trying to carry the Cowboys on his back since 2006.
Romo is a talented and earnest performer who throws one of the most catchable balls in the game. However, Romo has had a tendency to throw interceptions when the game is on the line. So when the Cowboys were trying to mount a comeback or hold on to a late lead, Romo’s mistakes have been costing them big time. For years.
Now here’s what is strange about what is percolating around the Cowboys. There are questions being asked about how much more Garrett is going to ask from his star running back. The Cowboys have exceeded all expectations in the first six games of the year, but there are still 10 games remaining.
Inquiring minds want to know just how much of a load Murray can handle.
The premise is ridiculous. The Cowboys have struggled for so long and now they have found a formula for success. Analysts like former Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick are saying that Murray cannot possibly maintain his current pace and that he is bound to get hurt or slow down considerably in the foreseeable future.
Billick may like the sound of his own voice or reading his own words on the computer screen. When he was coaching the Ravens, he had a bruising running back by the name of Jamal Lewis who carried the ball 387 times for 2,066 yards in 2003.
If Murray continues to carry the ball 26.5 times per game – the pace he is at through six games – he will end up with 424 carries.
That’s 37 more carries than Lewis had in 2003. If Billick is trying to point out that a little over two carries a game makes a big difference over the course of a 16-game season, I’m not buying it.
Billick tried to point out that the Ravens had a plan that year to take some of the heat off of Lewis by giving some of his rushing attempts to backup running back Chester Taylor. That year Taylor had 63 carries, which is just under four carries per game.
The Cowboys have a pair of backup running backs in Joseph “Light Fingers” Randle and Lance Dunbar. Those two have a combined 28 carries through six games, meaning that Garrett is having his backups carry the ball just under five times per game – slightly more than Billick did with Taylor.
Let the record show that Taylor was an excellent running back a decade ago. He averaged better than 4.0 yards per carry in every season from 2003 through 2008. He exceeded 700 yards in three of those seasons, and he eventually graduated from backup to starter.
Murray is not a huge man at six feet and 215 pounds, but he runs with power and elusiveness. He lowers his shoulder when he finishes his runs, and tacklers are regularly knocked backwards. He missed practice Wednesday due to an undisclosed illness.
Murray is the Cowboys great resource, and he is on pace for 2,093 yards. “We like giving him the football,” Garrett said.
The Cowboys are not using Murray up. They are finding a formula for winning, something that has eluded them for years.
If Murray starts to slow down, they can find a different gameplan. But they can’t save him up for the crucial games at the end of the season. They have a formula and they have to stick with it, even if Billick and his ilk say otherwise.