The third-year back has high expectations for the upcoming season, and there’s no reason not to. The biggest concern for Dallas is Murray staying healthy.
Through his first two years, Murray has missed a total of nine games due to leg injuries. It’s difficult to base an offensive scheme around a guy who isn’t on the field consistently.
Murray’s incomplete 2012 campaign was the main reason the Cowboys finished 31st in rushing last season. The unit only averaged a miniscule 3.6 yards per carry.
In order for Dallas to be more successful next year, Murray must be an integral part of its offense.
To get the most production out of the offense, the Cowboys have to be more balanced. This responsibility falls on the shoulders of Murray and the play-calling of new offensive coordinator Bill Callahan. Perhaps because the team was so pass-heavy last season, he will really try to solidify the running game early and often.
Murray clearly is a vital part of that goal.
Too many times last year Dallas would abandon the running game, relying strictly on Romo and the receivers. This made the offense one-dimensional and easy to predict for opposing defenses.
In 2012, the Cowboys were 4-1 in games in which Murray carried the ball more than 15 times.
Fifteen carries a game is not a crazy number whatsoever. Even though he’s on a completely different level, Adrian Peterson averaged nearly 22 carries per game last year. That was coming off ACL surgery.
There’s no reason, if healthy, that Murray can’t achieve a similar average. For the Dallas offense to click to its full potential, it needs DeMarco to be its workhorse.
On NFL.com, Dan Hanzus quoted Murray, who discussed on SportsCenter his hopes for the Dallas offense in 2013:
We definitely need to emphasize the running game. When you're second-to-last in attempts, more than likely you're going to be second-to-last in rushing, so we definitely got to get the running game going.
The Cowboys should also consider using Murray more in the passing game. He only had one game last year where he caught more than five balls. In his final year at Oklahoma University, he caught 10 passes on two different occasions.
Utilizing him more with quick screens and flares out of the backfield would benefit the offense altogether. Romo would stay out of danger by getting rid of the ball quickly, and one of the team’s best playmakers would have the chance to operate in open space. Callahan needs to get his playmakers the ball as often as possible and next to Dez Bryant, Murray is most capable.
Someone who will help both Murray and the team is fifth-round draft choice Joseph Randle.
Obviously, if Randle is being productive in a game, Murray won’t be getting the ball as much. This may seem like a negative—however, it will only help Murray in the long run.
The Cowboys selected Randle instead of a change-of-pace back because of Murray’s history of injuries. They need a starting running back playing at all times, and Randle brings that to the table.
The ideal situation for Dallas would be that Murray stays healthy and plays in all 16 games. Randle would act as an insurance policy and probably come off the bench every few series to give the starter breaks.
Hopefully this will keep Murray rested enough to deliver quality series in fourth quarters and give him longevity for an entire season.
There’s no doubt that Murray is extremely explosive and has the talent to be one of the best running backs in the NFL. He just needs to put it all together for one whole season and, most importantly, stay out of the injury report.
All statistics via Pro Football Reference unless indicated otherwise.