DeMarco Murray is a game-changer

IRVING, Texas -- The power. The fury. The feet. The speed.

What a joy it is to watch DeMarco Murray run the football -- unless, of course, you're trying to tackle him.

Since the day Tony Romo became the Dallas Cowboys' starting quarterback in 2006, Jerry Jones has surrounded him with quality receivers from Terry Glenn to Keyshawn Johnson to Terrell Owens to Miles Austin and Dez Bryant.

Jerry became so infatuated with acquiring receivers that he forgot how much a star runner could help Romo. Odd, considering Emmitt Smith played 13 seasons with the Cowboys.

Marion Barber and Julius Jones were one-dimensional runners easily suffocated by defensive coordinators, who took away their strengths. A niche running back such as Felix Jones prefers to share the load, which is not conducive to being a star, and a guy like Tashard Choice always yearned to do more than his talent would allow.

Each of those runners had 100-yard performances and some unforgettable moments for the Cowboys.

None compares to Murray, who's so good he makes Romo a better quarterback and Jason Garrett a better coach.

And that's why Murray's continued health and improvement are key to the Cowboys' building off their surprising win over the New York Giants and becoming a legitimate contender in the NFC.

"I love it how he explodes into the guy who's trying to tackle him at the end of the run," Garrett said. "His pads are always down, and he's always finishing forward.

"I think it's good to get yards that way, but it also sends a message to the guy who's trying to tackle him, and that's a good thing as well."

Look what Murray did Wednesday night against the Giants.

After gaining just 20 yards on eight carries in the first half, he finished with 131 yards on 20 carries. In the process, he showed why he's different than any other running back Romo or Garrett has had in Dallas.

Any time Murray gets the ball, it's an opportunity for him to change the game.

After the Giants had pulled within 14-10 in the third quarter, their crowd was finally whipped into an emotional frenzy. The Giants needed a stop to give quarterback Eli Manning an opportunity to drive for the go-ahead touchdown.

Murray denied them on a simple toss right.

Tackle Doug Free missed his block, and Mathias Kiwanuka was waiting for Murray as he headed around the right end. Trapped, Murray lowered his shoulder and delivered a forearm into Kiwanuka's chest, putting him on his butt.

Then Murray headed left, where he stepped out of Justin Tuck's grasp. He bumped into fullback Lawrence Vickers, gathered himself and sprinted down the sideline for a 48-yard gain.

When the Giants finally tackled him, Murray popped up and released a primal scream.


"It's exactly like we drew it up, right?" Garrett said. "Ran into six guys, Vickers almost tackled him for a 3-yard loss, and he spun out of it and made a great run."

So much for the Giants' momentum. The drive ended with a field goal, and Murray spent the rest of the half punishing New York's defenders.

It's hard to believe NFL talent evaluators thought there were five running backs in the 2011 draft better than Murray.

New Orleans took Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram with the 28th pick in the first round. In the second round, Arizona took Ryan Williams, New England took Shane Vereen, Detroit selected Mikel Leshoure and Miami grabbed Daniel Thomas.

"We were all looking at each other in the draft room saying, 'Are we missing on something with this guy?'" Garrett said. "We were shocked we had a chance to draft this guy."

Williams and Leshoure each missed the season. The other three combined for 1,112 yards on 302 carries with six touchdowns last season.

In the 14 games Murray has played, he's gained 1,028 yards on 184 carries with two touchdowns. He set the franchise's single-game rushing record last season with 253 yards against St. Louis, and he's had three other games with at least 130 yards.

Murray's impact goes beyond rushing yards.

Since he became the Cowboys' primary ball carrier against St. Louis in Week 7, he's averaged 19.2 carries in the games he's played -- not including the loss to the Giants last season, when he broke his ankle on his fifth carry.

In those same games, Romo has averaged 33 passes a game and Dallas is 6-2. In the first five games of last season before Murray took over, Romo averaged 39 passes a game.

For a player such as Romo, who's prone to the impulse throw, it's better to keep him around 30 passes a game because the more he throws it, the greater the odds he'll make a mistake.

Besides, Dallas is 6-0 when Murray carries the ball at least 20 times and 4-0 when he gains at least 100 yards.

Pretty good for a third-round pick. And he should only get better.