Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray was the talk of the NFL and on his way to stardom in 2011 until a broken ankle derailed his record-breaking rookie season. Since then, he hasn’t been talked about much aside from discussions regarding future fantasy football drafts. However, Murray has a new body guard that will make him not only the NFL’s top newcomer once again, but will propel him past that point and into MVP discussion.
Murray broke onto the NFL scene in resounding fashion during a 34-7 Cowboys victory over the St. Louis Rams in Week 7 of the 2011 season. With then-Cowboys fullback Tony Fiammetta in the starting lineup for the first time in over a month, Murray rushed for a team-record 253 yards on 25 carries, including a 91-yard scoring dash to start the game.
That run was the longest first-career touchdown run of any player since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 and it was just the start of a record-breaking stretch of games by Murray. In a four-game span, Murray ran for 601 yards on just 75 attempts – an average of over 8 yards per carry. That’s also a new team record.
After that, Murray became human, putting up pedestrian numbers in his next four games before having his season ended early by the ankle injury. Why the sudden burst of production and then the decline? One very simple reason – a solid fullback.
The true MVP of the Cowboys’ 2011 season was Fiammetta, who’s presence on the field translated directly into victories. Dallas went 6-3 in the games Fiammetta played and 2-3 in the games he didn’t. Murray’s production was historic with Fiammetta in the lineup, but average without the fullback. Fiammetta is now with the New England Patriots, but the Cowboys have a viable replacement.
The reason is the production Vickers creates instead of achieves himself. In 2010, Vickers led the way when then-Browns running back Peyton Hillis had his 1,177-yard breakout season. The following year, Vickers led Texans running back Arian Foster to a 1,224-yard season in just 13 games. Now Vickers will lead the way for Murray, who benefited greatly from Fiammetta as a rookie. That means Murray is in for a stellar sophomore season behind Vickers.
In a fair world, Vickers would be an NFL MVP candidate in 2012, but he creates the production without receiving credit for it. Murray, on the other hand, will easily eclipse the 1,000-yard mark on the ground in 2012, becoming the first Cowboys running back to do that since Emmitt Smith in 2001. In case you’re still wondering, those were Smith’s records that Murray broke as a rookie.
After reading the stats of Hillis and Foster with Vickers leading the way, one might think that any running back can run for 1,000 yards behind the big fullback. However, that’s not the case.
Hillis was among the top NFL players in broken tackles in 2010 while Foster recorded similar stats in that category in 2011. Likewise, Murray averaged three broken tackles per game past the line of scrimmage in the games that Fiammetta played in 2011. Good running backs can break tackles in the backfield, but still get tackled before gaining any yards. Thus, it might take three defenders to bring down a stud runner on one play although he doesn’t gain a single yard.
With a solid fullback like Fiammetta or Vickers, running backs like Hillis, Foster and Murray can run into the second wave of defenders before having to break a tackle. That equals huge rushing days like Murray’s breakout game against the Rams last season. With Vickers in the lineup for the Cowboys in 2012, all Murray has to do is stay healthy to break several more team records. Heck, he might even break some league records if last season was any indication of his capability.
The key here is big games by Murray will translate directly into wins for the Cowboys a majority of the time. The only way that doesn’t happen is if Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett abandons the running game in critical situations, which is his tendency. He only gave Murray eight carries in a 34-7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011 and while the rookie ran for 74 yards (9.25 yards-per-carry average), his team turned the ball over and went three and out multiple times due to an ineffective passing game.
If Murray and Vickers are both healthy and the former receives 20 carries per game in 2012, there’s no reason the Cowboys shouldn’t win at least 10 games. Of course, defense, special teams and the sheer factor of football will have some say in that, but teams with great running backs win football games – it’s a historically proven fact. Big numbers and wins mean MVP talk and Murray will be that player for the Cowboys in 2012.