As the Dallas Cowboys embark on the annual "Why can't this team run the ball?" tour, a lot of people are glowering in the direction of DeMarco Murray. After all, he is the starting running back for the team, so this has to be mostly on him. Obviously he is not up to the task. While calls to dump him or trade him have not started yet, there are questions being directed towards Murray about the frustration he must feel under the circumstances of how few really big games he has had, as well as the lack of a ground game in the loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
"I'm not frustrated," Murray said. "We're first in our division right now. We're doing fine. We just have to continue to get better, but I'm definitely not frustrated."
And why should he be? After all, he is a top ten running back this season, and easily the most productive offensive weapon the Cowboys have this season not named Tony Romo.
Oh. You didn't know that?
There has been a widespread case of tunnel vision about Murray. It focuses solely on how many carries he has for how many yards. Since he is also the only player to have any significant number of carries this season (the net rushing yards not involving him total 13 so far), the success of the running game gets entwined with Murray's performance. And so does the criticism that is directed the Cowboys' way.
But tell me: How badly should we criticize a player who represents 29% of the total offensive yards gained so far by Dallas? Murray has had the ball for 199 of the 685 yards gained from scrimmage this season. Second place goes to Dez Bryant with 163.
The problem here is that people forget Murray catches the ball, too.
So he has the third most yards receiving and is tied for third most receptions on the team. Plus he is a key part of the pass protection for Romo when he is not out in the pattern. Given those numbers, I wouldn't be frustrated, at least with my own performance.
Pro Football Focus does take all aspects of his game into account, which is why they have him ranked as the eighth best running back right now. And their ranking fully acknowledges his lack of success in running the ball, with a -2.1 score there. That is more than countered by his +3.4 as a receiver and +1.1 as a pass protector.
The Cowboys do need to get the running game on track. But that does not mean that Murray needs to start ripping off 100-yard performances. (That would certainly be nice, but it is not the only way he can contribute.) The game is about effectiveness, not just quantity. A dump off to a running back is the rough equivalent of a running play. And the most important aspect of the running game is that it has to be something the defense cannot disregard, which is where the Cowboys did fall short against the Chiefs. They need to keep it in the game plan much longer than they did, and not abandon it early in the second half.
But the problem is not DeMarco Murray. And he has nothing to feel frustrated about. Right now, he is having a very good season. One of the best of any of the Cowboys.