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Having a career year, DeMarco Murray will test Giants' run defense

Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray (29) runs

Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray (29) runs the ball during a game against the Washington Redskins. (Oct. 13, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

IRVING, Texas - When DeMarco Murray said in the summer of 2013 that he was capable of rushing for 2,000 yards in a season, the idea seemed downright ludicrous.

Six weeks into the 2014 season, it no longer seems like a crazy statement.

No other NFL runner has been as productive as Murray in 2014. In fact, no other NFL runner has come close. The former Oklahoma star is averaging 130.8 rushing yards per game, way ahead of Arian Foster's 102.6. Murray has run for more yards on first down (594) than anyone else has on all four downs combined (Foster has 513 yards in five games). Oh, and his six rushing touchdowns lead the league.

He's also in Hall of Fame company. Running behind an offensive line that includes three first-round draft choices, Murray has rushed for at least 100 yards in each of his six games, matching LI's own Jim Brown for the longest season-opening streak in league history. His 785 rushing yards -- which project over 16 games to 2,093 -- are the most in Cowboys history through the first six games, outdistancing a couple of guys named Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett.

All of which has the 26-year-old Murray squarely in the conversation for league MVP, something nobody saw coming -- though some of his teammates had seen some clues that big things were ahead for the 6-foot, 217-pound back.

"This offseason he was my workout partner, and it's amazing how he's prepared for this opportunity," tight end Jason Witten said. "He's big. He's strong. He's tough. He's smart. He's eager. He wants to be the best. He doesn't settle.

"I think he embraces this role. He wants to be that guy who can carry it every down. He doesn't want to come off the field. He has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. He's got something to prove."

One thing Murray has to prove is his durability. Though his averages always have been excellent -- 4.9 yards per rush for his career -- he has never made it through an entire season healthy. Even last season, when he played in 14 games and rushed for career highs of 1,121 yards and nine TDs, he not only missed some time but was noticeably slowed in several other games.

That's why the alarm has been raised around the Cowboys regarding Murray's workload. This season he has 159 carries, which not only is 43 more than anyone else in the league and only 58 short of his career high for a season, it's also on pace to break the NFL season record of 416 set by Larry Johnson in 2006.

The Cowboys have not been shy about riding their workhorse to a surprising 5-1 start. In last week's victory at Seattle, for example, Murray was handed or thrown the ball 35 times. Backups Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar totaled 10 touches.

"We're conscious of it," said Scott Linehan, who calls Dallas' offensive plays. "We don't sit there and count or say he's on a pitch count or anything like that. It's not a matter of carries, it's the amount of plays. We've got a really good corps of backs who all have unique skill sets. Having them play a little bit more in situational football enables DeMarco to not have such a heavy workload . . . DeMarco's certainly shown he has the ability to play for four quarters, but this is the point of the season where it's really vital that we get some key minutes from other players at that position."

Linehan carries the title of passing game coordinator, but his commitment to the run has been the key to Murray's hot start and the Cowboys' success. In his first year as Dallas' play-caller, he's turned a team that had called passes on more than 65 percent of its plays during the previous two seasons into the NFL's most run-heavy team, leading the league in rushing attempts per game and ranking second in time of possession.

Linehan's predecessors as play-caller, head coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan, were quick to abandon the running game when it started slowly or the Cowboys fell behind. Linehan, on the other hand, has kept feeding Murray the ball despite sizable deficits and few early yards.

"It all falls on Scott," Murray said. "He doesn't get rattled if we're up by 50 or down by 50. He has a great mindset of what he wants to do and what we should do. We're just committed to winning and trying to score as many points as possible, whether that's passing or running or whatever the case may be."

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