Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Wondering Where DeMarco Is Headed

One of the talking points out of Saturday's victory over Cincinnati was the benching of DeMarco Murray by Jason Garrett after the running back put the ball on the ground in the 1st Quarter.  It seemed to annoy Murray quite a bit and it certainly has helped fill some segments of radio as we discuss the relative authority demanded and distributed by the Cowboys' coach.  We discussed how Garrett is growing into his role recently, and this did not hurt that development one bit.

The DeMarco Murray story - as we hit year 3 already - is an interesting one to say the least.  He has been billed as a fantastic heir to the running back throne in Dallas which Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith once ruled.  Whether he is close to that quality remains to be seen in more than short bursts, but it is easy to see how he can make people forget Troy Hambrick, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice.

Now, he has to prove that he is more than Julius Jones, 2004 or Marion Barber, 2007 - which is, a fantastic start to a career, but that proved to be the high-water mark rather than a sign of things to come.

Babe Laufenberg had quite interesting numbers on the broadcast on Saturday night about the falloff of the numbers from DeMarco Murray since his November 2011 which set his bar very, very high.

In fact, the numbers are actually quite interesting to look at between Julius Jones and DeMarco.

First, Murray as we separate his first 100 carries from the rest.

Attempts Yards YPA 10+ Runs Runs for Loss
1-100 674 6.74 17 18
next 225 886 3.9 15 71

And now, let's turn back the clock on Julius Jones in what is relatively the same two samples from 2004 and 2005:

Attempts Yards YPA 10+ Runs Runs for Loss
1-98 445 4.5 12 24
next 219 797 3.6 20 49

Clearly, you would rather have Murray no matter which way you slice it, but that is hardly real strong praise in that Julius Jones turned out to be a enormous falloff from Stephen Jackson - the guy that the Cowboys was thought was comparable to Jones on Draft Day 2004.

And, we better remember that Murray's drop off might have far more to do with those blocking in front of him rather than his own performance.  But, that is the discussion, right?  When it is time to pay DeMarco, you aren't going to pay him based on the quality of the offensive line.  You are going to pay him on his own quality - and it is their job to figure out where one ends and the next begins.

Which take us to what we love so much about Murray.  As his last 2 touches on Saturday night showed, he is a load to bring down.  He shoved a fantastic stiff arm into the helmet of a would-be tackler and then on the dump off pass from Kyle Orton, he made several Bengals miss on his way to the end zone.  He runs so hard.  He punishes on the way in.  He is relentless in his effort and seems to pattern his game after his predecessor at Oklahoma, Adrian Peterson (who doesn't?).

So, here come the next 2 questions about that style.

1) - Can you do it and stay healthy?

2) - Can you do it and hold on to the football?

And these, more so than the production to a certain point, are the determiners in what Murray becomes. Is he a back who is here in 2018?  Or, is he a back who is only here until he can be replaced with a new model in the 2015 draft?

The health has been detailed.  He broke his right ankle in 2011 and then sprained a foot in 2012 that kept him out of 6 weeks of action as well.  Can a player with the high miles from Oklahoma and his style stay on the field in the NFL when he plays that high and that hard?

And then, the fumbles.  It could be argued that Adrian Peterson's fumble issues in 2009 kept the Minnesota Vikings out of the Super Bowl (see NFC Championship Game in New Orleans) and in that offseason, Peterson was determined to fix it.  Since then, in 933 touches, he has fumbled a total of 6 times or once every 155 touches.

Murray, in 385 career touches has fumbled 4 times.  Not horrible, but once every 96 touches and had 2 last December that were crucial.  Once against Pittsburgh which cost the Cowboys points in a very close game as he fumbled and lost the ball at the Steelers' 7 yard line.  And then, in a tight loss to New Orleans, he fumbled in a tie game at the Cowboys 3 yard line, setting up the Saints nicely.

And, that is one principle reason why Garrett had to shut down Murray for a bit.  Yes, fumbles will happen.  But, as he said, a handoff has to be a safe play.  A running back is the last guy that should be fumbling.  He has to know that when he declares war on his tacklers, they will be going for that ball to teach him a lesson on going down at first contact.

The other assignment he blew on Saturday was the first play of the game when he ran past a blitzer who sacked Tony Romo.  He did not make the right read and his QB was hit hard near his own goal line.  These are big responsibilities, and he has to prove he can handle them all.

So, what does the future hold for Murray?  I imagine he controls the Cowboys season to a certain extent.  He has to stay on the field and he cannot get demoralized by poor blocking.  He can make this team a real contender if he can play anything like he did in November 2011.  But, that is historic stuff.

He is a pivotal player who can set the tone and be a leader by his ferocious style.  But, he also has to be above handing the ball over or getting himself hurt because of picking one too many battles.  It is a lot on his plate.

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