DeMarco Murray's success contagious
Cowboys rookie RB making life easier for Tony Romo, offensive line -- even defense
He has made Jason Garrett a better coach. He has made Tony Romo a better quarterback. He has made the defense a better defense.
And he has made the offensive line a better offensive line.
"Great back; that's all I can say," guard Montrae Holland said in the locker room after Sunday's win against the Buffalo Bills in which Murray ran for 135 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. "The vision is outstanding. As long as we get him a little crease, he'll make the best of it."
The numbers are staggering: 601 yards in four games. Emmitt Smith's best four-game total during his Hall of Fame career was 550 yards in 1993. Only three other rookies -- Mike Anderson (twice), Adrian Peterson, whom Murray followed at Oklahoma, and Eric Dickerson, whom owner and general manager Jerry Jones compared Murray to -- have had better four-game runs in NFL history.
Before Murray, the Cowboys were patching the line together with two rookies (Tyron Smith and Bill Nagy), a first-time starter (Phil Costa) at center and a veteran making a position switch (Kyle Kosier). They had three left guards in the first six games before Holland's return settled down the group.
"There probably is no group on a football team that needs to communicate better than the offensive line," Garrett said. "There are a lot of calls they make together and there is a lot of communication that happens right before the snap that they have to be on top of and be on the same page. And so the more times you get the chance to do that in practice and in games, hopefully you'll get better at it."
Murray credits the offensive line. The offensive line credits Murray.
"Definitely runs hard," left tackle Doug Free said. "He's been doing a great job back there, and us running the ball gives a little bit of an edge."
Offensive linemen like to run block the way tweens like to scream at a Justin Bieber concert. There is something about grabbing another 300-pound person and shoving them out of the way to create a hole. Pass blocking might mean more in today's NFL than it ever has, but it does not bring the same satisfaction.
"Did we pass today?" Holland joked after Sunday's game.
They did. Quite well, in fact. Romo set a franchise record by completing 88.5 percent of his passes. He threw for 270 yards and three touchdowns. He was not picked off. He also was not sacked for a second straight game.
It is only the third time Romo has gone back-to-back games without being sacked since he's been the starter.
But all the linemen care about is running the ball.
That's where Murray comes in.
He has shown he does not need a lot of space to make a positive play. A lineman does not need to have perfect hand placement, perfect footwork or perfect timing for Murray to break free. Murray is a living, breathing John Wooden-ism as he runs. He is quick, but he doesn't hurry.
"I think he makes our jobs a little easier," said reserve guard Derrick Dockery, who helped pave the way for 1,000-yard rushers Clinton Portis and LaDell Betts in Washington and Marshawn Lynch in Buffalo. "Sometimes as an offensive lineman you might get that hole for a split second and he's the type of back that sees it, hits it and he's gone. He turns three yards into 15, 20, 50, touchdown. He's very explosive. That's the type of back you want to have. Not only that, he's a physical runner. He's not trying to fall down. He's trying to get those extra yards. As an offensive lineman, you appreciate that."
The last time the Cowboys saw something similar to Murray's ascension was when a rested Julius Jones belted out 517 yards against Baltimore, Chicago, Seattle and New Orleans in 2004. It catapulted Jones into the "next one" category, as far as being the heir to Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith.
How did that turn out?
Jones had most of his success running behind spread formations with spread-out defenses.
Murray's 91-yard run came on a lead draw that Smith perfected. His 32-yarder came in "22" personnel with two backs and two tight ends. So did his 25-yard run last week against the Bills. He can run behind fullback Tony Fiammetta. He can run out of a spread offense.
"The good thing is that it's been a little bit of everything," tight end Jason Witten said.
The better thing is that it's working like it's never worked before.
Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.