IRVING, Texas – A team’s record with a 100-yard rusher can be a misleading statistic. Was the 100-yard rushing performance more cause or effect? Did the running back’s big day play a critical role in building a lead or did he do much of his damage while his team was protecting a lead in the fourth quarter?
In the case of DeMarco Murray, there is no doubt.
The Cowboys are 5-0 when Murray has broken the 100-yard barrier during his career, including four double-digit victories. In each case, his success on the ground has been a major reason the Cowboys had a lead to protect late in the game.
Sunday’s rout of the St. Louis Rams is the most glaring example. Murray only carried the ball once in the fourth quarter, losing two yards on that touch. He gained 177 yards on 25 carries in the first three quarters, including 86 yards on 10 carries in the first quarter, when the Cowboys jumped out to a 10-0 lead.
That resulted in easy pickings for Tony Romo in the passing game later in the afternoon.
“It all comes from the fact that we were able to run the ball as well as we did,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “You start dictating the coverages and get what you want down the field.”
Murray had 187 yards on 20 carries in the first three quarters of his franchise-record 253-yard performance against the Rams in 2011, the first 100-yard game of his career. The Cowboys had a 20-7 lead entering the fourth quarter.
A couple of weeks later, Murray had 108 yards on 14 carries in the first three quarters against the Seattle Seahawks, helping the Cowboys build a 13-7 lead that they added a touchdown to 43 seconds into the fourth quarter. He finished the game with 139 yards on 22 carries.
Murray followed that up by rushing for 88 yards on 16 carries in the first three quarters against the Buffalo Bills the next week, as the Cowboys built a 34-7 lead. He ended that game with 135 yards on 20 carries.
The 2012 season opener is the only time that Murray has overcome a slow start to rush for 100 yards in a game. He gained only 20 yards on eight carries in the first quarter, but he broke free for a 48-yard gain early in the third quarter and had 87 yards on 13 carries entering the fourth, with the Cowboys up by a touchdown. Murray finished with 131 yards on 20 carries.
Winning tends to come easy for the Cowboys when Murray gets going early in the game.
The challenge is remaining reasonably committed to the run when Murray doesn’t find much room right off the bat.
“It’s critical, and it’s not always easy,” Garrett said. “It’s not always easy here and it’s not always easy around the league to come out and say, ‘We’re going to run the ball. We’re going to run for 150 yards in the first half.’ It’s unrealistic to think that.
“But you have to be persistent with it. You have to keep banging away. You have to keep finding ways to run the ball, whether it’s with a new personnel group, a new formation, a new this, a new that and you have to be persistent with it and keep attacking that way.”