Murray on his own?
No question the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line remains in preseason mode. False starts and closed running lanes have hindered their motor so far.
DeMarco Murray's production this year has been skewed, thanks to a 48-yard run in Week 1 which looked like a broken-down sandlot play. Remove that from his opener, and you get a still solid 4.37 YPC. But since then, he's run off only 2.73 against a tough Seattle Seahawks unit and a Tampa Bay Buccaneers lot that looks much improved from last year.
Of course, Dallas' lack of protection has contributed to his mud-clogged feet. I'm not as worried for the long term about increased pressure on Tony Romo. Sure, no one likes to see their QB hurried like he was Sunday, but he does some of his best work outside the pocket, and if the ground game can at least keep defenses honest, Romo's mistakes would be limited. Plus, if Dallas' run game collapses, Dallas will fall back into bad habits and let Romo air it out ala Brett Favre.
What deserves more examination is Murray's outlook - well, more so, Dallas' front five. It's not that Murray himself is incapable of making big plays. It's just harder to move forward consistently when he's gang-tackled before gaining momentum.
In Week 3, seven of his 18 totes wound up behind the line of scrimmage as he couldn't escape the backfield. Bill Callahan made a point of picking guards Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau to fit his concept. Ryan Cook, who including the last two weeks has only started three games at center in his career, is filling in for the injured Phil Costa (back) at center. That's a trio of penetrable elements in the middle.
Tyron Smith and Doug Free can hide some of their faults in the ground game, but they look like they're adjusting, as well, after their swap of tackle spots. The downgrade from Tony Fiammetta to Lawrence Vickers hasn't helped create more holes, either, though Dallas runs too often in singleback formations to count that as the main concern.
Note that Murray's half-field scamper from the opener and his 11-yard TD run this past Sunday both took him to the outside. The increasing amount of stretch plays has Dallas running away from their inexperienced and/or inept insiders and letting Murray's speed do most of the work.
How long until Dallas feels comfortable getting significant contributions behind the middle of their line? Costa wasn't anything special last year, and when he returns (presumably after the bye), he'll need some time to pick up what Callahan wants from him, which will likely include line-calling duties. We're a long way from calling Costa the next Nick Mangold, but Callahan's positive history with quintets still says there's upside to this group.
Murray's combination of physicality and quick-footedness makes him a prime candidate on paper for workhorse designation. This was what propelled him into the first round in many fantasy drafts. But his running style is already a magnet for injuries, as his history will attest to, and there's no denying that a diminished wall increases the risk.
At least Murray owners don't have to worry about his place on the tote totem. Felix Jones is insurance and a fantasy shot in the dark, not an alluring pickup. Dallas will and should continue feeding Murray as much as possible to keep defenses from teeing off on Romo and having Romo try carrying the team on his shoulders. The yield from Murray's touches should increase as time goes on.
Dallas' next two games (Chicago Bears on Monday night and Baltimore after the bye) don't point to rebound efforts. But Week 7, versus the swiss-cheesed Carolina Panthers run resistance, would be an ideal place to bank on the beginning of a turnaround. From there, from what we can tell about the defenses now, it's a mixed bag in terms of matchups.
Murray's rise into upper-echelon RB territory was a combination of a lackluster running back crop for the ADP devotees and the talent he teased in an incomplete rookie season. Dallas' flaws have been magnified for all to see and look like they'll suppress Murray's returns for the immediate future if he can't find the end zone.
Luckily for his owners, despite his murky history of red zone work, he'll be the main carrier there and should at least yield flex value. That's not what you drafted him for, but it's enough in the next month to keep you from selling him at pennies on the dollar while expecting Dallas' line to improve. It can't get much worse.
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About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, he appears on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio on Thursdays and Sundays, and every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.
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