Commentary

DeMarco Murray changing play-calling

Cowboys rookie RB provides Jason Garrett a player to make the epicenter of his offense

Updated: December 29, 2011, 2:02 PM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- For some reason, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett has no interest in acknowledging DeMarco Murray has made him a different playcaller.

There's certainly no shame in it.

Murray is better than those who came before him, such as Julius Jones, Marion Barber and Felix Jones, so it makes sense that Garrett would choose more running plays.

Garrett wants us to believe he's always strived to have a balanced offense since he arrived as offensive coordinator in 2007.

Well, we hadn't seen it until six weeks ago when Murray became the starter and changed the entire dynamic of the Cowboys' offense, propelling the Cowboys into first place in the NFC East.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
AP Photo/Sharon EllmanDeMarco Murray has rushed for more than 130 yards in three games and has carried the ball at least 20 times in five games.
No one -- not even Garrett -- can argue with that. He'll try, but the numbers are irrefutable.

Besides, it's hard to believe a former high school, college and pro quarterback with toys such as Tony Romo, Jason Witten and Miles Austin at his disposal wants to run the ball on a regular basis.

Coordinators become offensive gurus because of their passing scheme -- not because they hand the ball off.

Since Garrett arrived as coordinator, the Cowboys had never run the ball more than 43 percent of the time, and that occurred in Garrett's first season, when the Cowboys went 13-3.

Barber, who finished that season with 975 yards and a 4.8 average per carry, had three 100-yard games, but only one game with 20 carries. In 2008, Barber had three 100-yard games and four games with 20 carries.

No Cowboys' runner had had as many 20-carry games or 100-yard performances until Murray's emergence.

Murray, ninth in the NFL in rushing, needs 166 yards to become the Cowboys' first 1,000-yard rusher since Julius Jones in 2006. The drought is embarrassing for a franchise that boasts Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett on its all-time roster.

Murray has provided Garrett with an anchor, a player to make the epicenter of his offense.

In the six games since he became a starter, Murray has not rushed for fewer than 73 yards. He has three games of more than 130 yards and has carried the ball at least 20 times five times.

The Cowboys are 5-1 in that span and they're running the ball 46.7 percent of the time. Only six teams have run it more than 46 percent of the time this season.

So are you going to believe Garrett or your lying eyes?

Maybe, Garrett is just playing the semantics game and trying to deflect attention from Murray. Then again, perhaps Murray is allowing Garrett to finally become the playcaller he's always said he wants to be.

Garrett loves to preach about the benefits of balance. He'll tell you about how much a good running game makes the quarterback better, the offensive line better, the receivers better and the defense better.

It also makes the playcaller better.

And that, friends, is why Garrett is giving the ball to Murray with such frequency that some folks really want to know if the workload is too much for the 23-year-old running back.

Really? Gimme a break.

The more carries and touches Murray gets, the better the Cowboys' offense will perform.

Do you think it's easier for Garrett to call plays on second-and-4 and third-and-2 or second-and-9 and third-and-9?

"He's helped us avoid the negative plays," said Garrett, "and that makes it easier to stay on schedule with our play calling and keeps our offense in rhythm."

Frankly, Murray's performance demands Garrett gives him the ball as long as he is productive. Miami held him to 87 yards on 22 carries, but Murray showed he won't get discouraged.

In the fourth quarter, he kept banging and Miami's defense wore down. That's what enabled the Cowboys to keep the ball until Dan Bailey hit the game-winning field goal on the game's final play.

Understand, you have to throw the ball -- unless we're talking about the Denver Broncos -- to get the explosive plays that accompany virtually every scoring drive.

Murray's running ability makes that easier because the safeties come running up every time Romo fakes the ball to Murray.

Finally, Garrett has evolved into the playcaller he's always aspired to be. Whether he wants to credit Murray for the transformation is irrelevant.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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