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Position Series: Murray Excels As Run Game Found

Posted Jan 17, 2014


(Editor's Note: This is the 10th of an 11-part series analyzing every position on the Cowboys roster, providing a quick look back before addressing the needs of each spot on the field and how it can be improved heading into the 2014 season. Today we examine the running backs.)

Pressing Matters: The Cowboys seem pretty set at this spot for the immediate future, but look beyond the 2014 season and it’s a lot cloudier. After next year, they’ll need to make decisions on DeMarco Murray’s and Lance Dunbar’s futures. Sometime this year they’ll also have to decide if Joseph Randle is capable of carrying the load full-time and being their premier running back. If not, they’ll have to make contingency plans soon. With a lot of other needs in the draft, it might be surprising to see the Cowboys take a running back, but they also have to be ready to make a decision on who the starter will be for years to come. Murray’s coming off his best season in the pros, and the Cowboys will have to figure out the best way to keep him and Dunbar as healthy as possible. 

2013 Evaluation:  Murray’s 1,124 rushing yards during the 2013 season marked his first 1,000-yard season in the NFL and was 227 yards better than his previous high set his rookie year in 2011. He also managed to have his best year while missing two games with a knee injury. Murray’s yet to play all 16 games in a season thus far in his career, but his production when on the field was among the best in the league. His 5.2 yards per carry placed him third in the league among running backs, and he also added his first receiving touchdown of his career to beat the Redskins.

Behind him, the most dynamic player was Lance Dunbar, but he was only used in limited fashion. The only game he got more than five carries was in Week 13 against the Raiders, when he took 12 carries for 82 yards, but he also got hurt that game and his season ended there. Joseph Randle was the primary ball-carrier in the two games Murray missed, and the rookie provided two rushing touchdowns during the 2013 season but averaged just three yards per carry.

Need More From … : The only improvement you’d like from Murray is to have him for 16 games. Dunbar’s also capable of more, but a major reason for him not having any sort of breakout year is because of the lack of opportunity. More than anything, this group needs a big jump from Randle. He didn’t make too many mistakes when the Cowboys needed a player to come in after Murray’s injury and he was certainly serviceable, but he needs to demonstrate more than that for him to be considered as a long-term, permanent option.

Upgrades Needed: The Cowboys could go ahead and try to groom another all-around running back to be their star of the future if they don’t want to give Murray another contract. In terms of just next year, their current cast seems adequate coming off their best rushing season of the last few years and a breakout year for the young offensive line. They could use a bruising type of back to complement the current cast and serve as an option near the goal line to spell Murray, who’s the biggest back on the team right now.

By The Numbers:

  • Murray’s attempts (217), rushing yards (1,124), rushing touchdowns (9), games played (14), receptions (53), receiving yards (350) and receiving touchdowns (1) were all career-highs.
  • Murray’s nine rushing touchdowns were the most by a Cowboys’ running back since Marion Barber found the end zone 10 times on the ground in 2007.
  • Dunbar had exactly twice as many rushing yards in the 2013 season (150) as he had the season prior (75). The majority of those yards came on an 82-yard rushing performance against the Raiders, in which he broke off a 45-yard gain. He averaged five yards per carry for the season.
  • Randle finished with 164 rushing yards on 54 carries with two rushing touchdowns and a long of 19 yards. He carried the ball a total of 44 times in a three-week span against the Redskins, Eagles and Lions and never fumbled.

Scout’s Take:

Bryan Broaddus on the Cowboys’ running backs:

As much as we have focused on the improvement of the offensive line this season and their ability to create running lanes for these backs, you need to give a tip of the cap to what DeMarco Murray was able to do this season as well. No player on this squad played with a bigger chip on his shoulder than what Murray was carrying… (Read more here)

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