IRVING, Texas – Through three games, DeMarco Murray is on a record pace. He leads the league in one very important category that has been game-altering each week.
And, as a side note, he's also racking up a ton of rushing yards, too.
Yeah, but those fumbles – three in three games – has become a major talking point for the Cowboys, despite the fact that Murray is off to one of the best starts in franchise history for a running back.
"This is something we have to address, because these are big, pivotal plays," head coach Jason Garrett said Monday. "Any play that has to do with the football is going to make a difference in the game. We found that out (Sunday). We have to find a way to make sure he secures the ball better, and we secure the ball better as a team to give us a better chance to win."
Murray's three fumbles lost are tied with Tampa Bay's Chris Rainey.
After Sunday's comeback win over the Rams, Murray said the fumbling was unacceptable and vowed to buck the trend.
"I'm very disappointed. I didn't play the way I should've played," Murray said. "I've got to get it fixed and will get it fixed. I've just got to hold it high and tight."
All three of Murray's fumbles have occurred in the first quarter, on either the team's first or second offensive drive. The first one against the 49ers was returned for a touchdown and Sunday in St. Louis, his fumble led to another Rams score, giving them a 14-0 lead that eventually was stretched to 21-0.
However, in all three instances, Murray has bounced back with a good performance, rushing for at least 100 yards in each game, including exactly 100 against the Rams. He had 167 yards against the Titans two weeks ago.
Heading into the Monday night game between the Bears and Jets, Murray's 385 yards are 70 more than Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell, who ranks second in the NFL in rushing.
Murray became just the third player in franchise history to start a season with three straight 100-yard games, joining Tony Dorsett (1981) and Emmitt Smith (1995). Dorsett rushed for a career-high 1,646 yards that season while Smith had a career-best 1,773 yards.
Then again, neither Smith or Dorsett had three fumbles in their first three games.
It's a balancing act that Garrett said isn't easy, particularly because of the way Murray has responded in each game after coughing up the ball.
"I think that's always the challenge with any running back," Garrett said. "Ball security is Line 1 – you have to take care of the football. Having said that, these guys are runners and they need to be able to run as naturally as possible. That's why they work in practice and developing those habits are so important because when the game starts you have to be very conscious of how you're holding that football, but you'd like that to be really natural and ingrained into you as part of who you are as a player. That's still a process we're going through with him."
Garrett said the coaching staff does "a ridiculous number of things" in practice to focus on hanging onto the football. [embedded_ad]
"We have periods every day in practice with a variety of drills. We do stuff with film, do stuff with pictures, we do stuff a lot of different ways," Garrett said. "The point is, up to this point, three games into the season, what we've done hasn't been good enough. So we look at ourselves as coaches to make sure this behavior is right, or this change in behavior goes back to the way he's typically carried the ball before. I don't think he's carrying it differently. He's carrying it probably in a very similar fashion, but he clearly needs to hold the ball better."
Holding the ball has been a topic of discussion for Murray, who typically held it primarily in his right hand early in his career. This year he's switched the ball depending on his location on the field and around other defenders. His first two fumbles were with the left hand, but this past Sunday, he was stripped while holding it on his right side.
Murray will be the first to downplay this notion, but getting the ball more like he's done this year will certainly lead to more chances to fumble. Through the first three games last year, Murray had just 54 carries and consequently just 286 yards.
This year, he not only has 99 more yards but 21 more carries as well.
Then again, he's got three fumbles. And no matter the yards or stats, those fumbles remain the only blemish on what has been a superb three-game start to the season.