DeMarco Murray is among the early MVP favorites. The latest Vegas odds peg him at 5-to-1, trailing only Philip Rivers (4-to-1) and Peyton Manning (9-to-2).
The Dallas Cowboys running back leads the league in rushing and the team is committed to riding him as far as it can regardless of the pounding he’ll take by being on pace to tie the NFL record for carries.
Murray has said he’s willing to take on that workload even though he’s in a contract year and negative after-effects are easily seen the following years for running backs who have been used that much.
But it’s a win-now league and that’s the focus for Murray and the Cowboys.
“DeMarco is having a fantastic year up to this point and he will be the bell cow of this team and we’ll continue to hand him the ball a lot in the game,” coach Jason Garrett said.
That includes Sunday in Seattle, as the Cowboys go against the league’s best run defense. The Seahawks have allowed only 62.3 yards per game on the ground, an average of 2.6 per attempt.
They’ve shut down the likes of Washington’s Alfred Morris, fresh off consecutive 1,000-yard seasons; Denver’s Montee Ball, a promising second-year pro out of Wisconsin; San Diego’s Ryan Mathews, a 1,000-yard rusher last season; and Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy, another 1,000-yard rusher last season.
But none of them are having anywhere near the same success that Murray is behind what is considered one of the top offensive lines in the game.
It’s no secret it’s been the key to the Cowboys’ 4-1 start. Just ask Seattle coach Pete Carroll, who has a similar workhorse in Marshawn Lynch.
“Their teams rely on them [Murray and Lynch] tremendously and they’re a big factor, big part of the team,” Carroll said. “Both of them are really aggressive runners and very effective runners. The results and the role that they play on their teams are very similar.”
Murray has opened the season with five consecutive 100-yard rushing games, joining Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson as the only running backs to accomplish that feat. Brown is the only player to begin a season with six consecutive 100-yard games.
Murray is also on pace to set the NFL rushing record with 2,144 yards.
“It’s a function of him understanding the scheme now going into the third year and really understanding the line’s timing,” offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Callahan said. “His timing’s gotten better. His vision is better. He’s seeing the game a little bit differently.
“He’s a hard, physical runner. He’ll be challenged again as we go into Seattle. They’ve got a great defense. This will be a lot of fun. It’ll be great. It’ll be a great challenge for us.”
The Cowboys understand that it could take time to establish the running game against the Seahawks. And they’re going into it with the mindset of sticking with it.
“We have to be persistent,” Garrett said. “We have to find different ways to run it, and we have to keep doing that early in the game, the middle of the game and throughout the game.”
Added center Travis Frederick: “You just need to continue to plug away and hopefully things start to wear in and they start to break.”
Frederick and the rest of the offensive line understand that’s easier said than done. This will be the biggest challenge to date. The Seahawks have enough confidence in their defensive backs that they can put a greater emphasis on stopping the run.
Frederick, in particular, has one of the toughest assignments going against Seahawks nose tackle Brandon Mebane. Mebane is a force in the middle and is a large reason why Seattle’s speedy linebackers can get to the ball carrier in a hurry.
“It’s going to be important for us to get on and off our blocks at the first level and get to the second level,” Frederick said.
If they succeed in doing that, Murray will have a chance to keep putting his name in the record books — and the MVP discussion.