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It's finally coming together for Darren McFadden, Cowboys

IRVING, Texas -- The Darren McFadden on display the past three weeks is the type of running back the Oakland Raiders thought they were getting eight years ago when he was the fourth overall pick.

This Darren McFadden is picking up tough yards, withstanding the grind of 20-carry games and showing things he had shown just once before, 2010, his third year in the NFL.

The Darren McFadden on display the last three weeks isn't the type of running back the Dallas Cowboys thought they had at the start of the season. That McFadden never had more than 35 yards in a game, never had more than 10 carries and didn't look like he should get more work.

Something changed Oct. 25 against the New York Giants. Joseph Randle went out with an oblique strain after two carries and McFadden was the guy.

In fact he had to be the guy. Randle was out and since has been released. Christine Michael has been more legend than substance complete with a nickname despite just two carries for 5 yards in his first two games with the Cowboys. Rod Smith was a Cowboy all of 11 days.

He finished that game with 29 carries for 152 yards and a touchdown. The Cowboys' running game has taken off ever since

But don't tell McFadden he is running any differently.

“I wouldn’t say so at all,” McFadden said.

This McFadden looks more decisive. He looks more aggressive. He looks more downhill. He looks more like how DeMarco Murray looked last year. Thought of more for speed, he has displayed some power. In last week’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, he carried defenders, one time spinning backward and churning his legs to pick up extra yards, finishing with 117 yards on 27 carries.

“It’s great to see on film,” right guard Zack Martin said. “He’s never going down the first hit. He’s always falling forward and as an offensive line we really recognize that and see how hard he’s working.”

While the offensive line has said it doesn’t matter who is running they block the same, McFadden’s success at making his own yards has made them better. The Cowboys' offense the last three weeks has resembled what it looked like last year, controlling the tempo and being persistent with the running game.

Running backs coach Gary Brown thinks it is more chances than any change McFadden has had.

“When you get more opportunities, you get to show more,” Brown said. “He’s more comfortable with the offensive line. They’re more comfortable with him and it’s showing up.”

In his last three games McFadden has 333 yards on 76 carries. Only St. Louis Rams rookie Todd Gurley (350) has more yards in the last three weeks. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who some thought would end up a Cowboy in the offseason, is third with 326 yards on 60 carries.

In the last three games, McFadden's 19 first-down runs are the most in the NFL. He has five negative runs since becoming the featured back. He has eight runs of 10 or more yards. Only Peterson (12) and Gurley (nine) have more.

“For me, I’m a ballplayer. I’m going to go out there and run hard anytime I get the ball in my hands,” McFadden said. “And it’s something I feel I’ve been doing of late and I’m going to continue to do it.”

McFadden has done something like this before. It has just not happened since 2010. He had six 100-yard games in 13 starts that year and finished with 1,157 yards and seven touchdowns on 223 carries. It was never as good after that. He missed nine games with a foot injury in 2011, four games in 2012 with an ankle injury and four games with a hamstring and two with an ankle injury in 2013.

He played in every game last season but averaged just 3.4 yards per carry.

When he signed with the Cowboys after Murray left, there was not much excitement. When he missed most of the offseason and early part of training camp with a hamstring strain, eyebrows were raised. The slow start to the season had few people believing anything would be different.

But this three-week run has changed opinions and opened up possibilities.

“He has the talent to be a 1,000-yard runner every season,” Brown said. “With injuries and things it slowed him down a little bit. I think the skill level’s always been there. He’s just had an opportunity now to show it. He’s been staying healthy. He’s taken care of his body. He’s a different guy now than he probably was when he was younger.”