DeMarco Murray lacks a good answer for the Dallas Cowboys’ lack of a running game. Maybe the St. Louis Rams provide one.
Murray received his first extended playing time against the Rams two years ago, and he announced his presence by passing Tony Dorsett, Emmitt Smith and Jim Brown in the record books. Adrian Peterson was the only running back Murray failed to pass that day.
With Felix Jones nursing a sprained ankle that day, and Tashard Choice not providing the needed spark, Murray gained 253 yards, including a 91-yard touchdown run. He set the team rookie rushing record formerly held by Dorsett, the team single-game rushing record formerly held by Smith, and he gained the most rushing yards ever against the Rams, topping Brown.
“It was a good game,” Murray said Friday. “I just remember offensively we were clicking that day, and offensively, we had a great day that day.”
The Cowboys would love to relive the past.
Since then, Murray has only three 100-yard games. He is averaging 70.8 yards per game and 4.4 yards per rush — lower than his career average of 4.8 — in the 19 games he has played since.
Murray hasn’t had a 100-yard game since he opened the 2012 season with 131 yards on 20 carries against the Giants.
“I don’t know what the stats are. I never look at stats,” said Murray, who has missed nine games with injuries in his three seasons. “Am I getting touchdowns? Am I getting yards? I’m just looking at the only stat that really matters, and that is wins and losses.”
The Cowboys vowed to run it more and run it better than they did last season when they set the team record for fewest rushing yards in a 16-game season. But they are running nowhere fast.
The Cowboys are tied for 26th in rushing, with 124 yards in two games, and they are averaging only 3.2 yards per rush. It begs the question: Does success in the running game come first or is it a commitment to run?
“You have to be committed to doing it, but you also have to have some success doing it,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “It’s our job as coaches to find things that are good. It’s our players’ job to execute those things. And you just have to be persistent throughout the game.”
The Cowboys ended last week’s 17-16 loss to the Chiefs with 12 consecutive passes. With Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten as receiving threats, it is tempting to get into a pass-first mentality.
Garrett, offensive coordinator Bill Callahan and quarterback Tony Romo all agree the Cowboys have to run it more than they have. Owner Jerry Jones cites Brian Waters, who is expected to take over at right guard soon, as a reason the running game will improve.
“We’ve got to do a better job,” Callahan said. “I’ve got to do a better job calling more runs. That’s something we’re working hard on.”
In the past 13 games, the Cowboys have averaged 68.5 rushing yards per game. They had no individual 100-yard rushers in that span, and only three times did they top 100 yards rushing as a team. Five times in the past 13 games the Cowboys had fewer than 50 yards rushing as a team.
“If we can run the ball, everything else is going to be successful,” Witten said. “We’ve got to do a better job of it. It’s not about the attempts; it’s about getting positive yards. We’ve got the back that can do it.”
Murray, a third-round pick in 2011, received more criticism last week than he has had carries this season. Former Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins pro personnel director Louis Riddick, now an analyst for ESPN, said Murray doesn’t do a good job avoiding tacklers.
“I’m fine,” Murray said. “I’m not listening to [the critics]. You’re never as bad as they think you are or as they say you are, and you’re never as good as they think you are or say you are. I’m just worried about the guys in this locker room, trying to get better every day, and we’re going to get things corrected, and we’re going to figure it out.”
Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who sat out the 2011 season, calls the game tape from two years ago irrelevant. The Rams have only 15 players left on their roster who played against Murray and the Cowboys in that 34-7 loss.
Still, Murray would love to use the Rams to prove he is as happy-go-skillfully as he is happy-go-lucky.
“We just have to continue to get better, but I’m definitely not frustrated,” Murray said. “… I’m blessed. There’s only one way to be is happy.”