IRVING, Texas — DeMarco Murray’s huge lead in the NFL rushing race isn’t a surprise to last year’s winner.
Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy figured the Dallas back just needed to get the ball.
“I’ve been a big fan of DeMarco for a while, not just this year,” said McCoy, whose Eagles visit the Cowboys on Thanksgiving in a matchup of NFC East co-leaders at 8-3. “They’re giving him some lanes to run in.”
And Dallas is giving Murray the ball — a lot. He’s on pace for the most carries since Kansas City’s Larry Johnson set the league record with 416 in 2006, and the load has actually eased the past month.
The Cowboys stuck with Murray through a penchant for fumbles early in the season, and now they’re staying with him against stacked defenses that have caused slow starts.
“I think that’s been kind of our philosophy all year, is grind out at the beginning, kind of grind out those 2-, 3-yard runs and the big ones will come,” rookie guard Zack Martin said. “It’s a credit to our coaches for sticking with the run game and with DeMarco, and a credit to him, too, for not giving up on us and trusting us that we’re going to get our job done.”
Murray began the season with eight straight 100-yard games, breaking Hall of Famer Jim Brown’s 56-year-old NFL record of six. Murray is the only back to hit the century mark 10 times in the first 11 games.
At 1,354 yards rushing, Murray is 403 ahead of Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell with five games remaining after McCoy led the league last season at 1,607. McCoy is up to 859 yards, fourth in the league, after a slow start.
Now Murray begins his march up the Cowboys’ single-season chart.
All-time NFL rushing leader Emmitt Smith holds six of the top eight seasons in Dallas history, and Murray has a shot at three of them this week. Once he gets there, he’ll be on the verge of the top five, where Tony Dorsett and Herschel Walker reside alongside Smith.
Murray needs to average 84 yards per game to break Smith’s franchise mark of 1,773 set in 1995, the last time the Cowboys won the Super Bowl. And he knows what he’s facing.
“Obviously they’re stacking the box and things of that nature, but that’s not an excuse,” said Murray, who leads the league with 268 carries and is on pace for just shy of 400. “We’ve got to continue to run and make it happen.”
The Cowboys did it at Super Bowl champion Seattle when Murray had 46 yards at halftime before getting 46 on three straight carries to finish the drive to a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Murray had 49 yards in the first half of Sunday’s 31-28 win at the New York Giants before finishing with 121. The only running play on the late winning drive was a 9-yarder by Murray on third-and-1 at the Cowboys 29. For the second time this season, he was the only Dallas running back to get a carry.
“He had a couple of explosive runs for us, but for the most part it was a grinder,” coach Jason Garrett said. “When you’re evaluating a back, that’s when it gets most impressive.”
Martin agrees, because the eight-man fronts usually mean there will be one player the linemen simply can’t block.
“If there’s eight guys in the box, a lot of times, we’re, ‘Hey, there’s going to be a free hat so you’re going to have to handle that free hat,'” Martin said. “He’s running over them, making them miss. A really complete back.”
And a back churning toward history for the Cowboys.