Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray has started this season like few running backs in NFL history.
You may have heard that Murray is on pace to rush for 2,144 yards, which would be an NFL single-season record. Or that Murray has started the season with five straight games of 100 yards, something that only Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson have done before. Or that Murray is on pace to carry the ball 416 times, which would tie the NFL record.
But the stat that may mean the most to the Cowboys’ brand of ball control offense is this: Murray is leading the league in rushing first downs, and it’s not even close.
Murray has already picked up 37 rushing first downs this season, by far the most in the NFL. Only one other player has rushed for more than 20 first downs this season, and that’s the Giants’ Rashad Jennings, with 26. Murray has more rushing first downs than 28 of the NFL’s 31 other teams. The Raiders have just 12 rushing first downs as a team, not even one-third of Murray’s total.
With 37 through five games, Murray is on pace to rush for 118 first downs this season. That would be the most that any running back has gained for as long as individual first down statistics are available: First down data at NFL.com goes back to 1991, and in that time no one has rushed for more than 107 first downs in a season. (Emmitt Smith in 1995 and Shaun Alexander in 2005 each had 107 rushing first downs.)
It’s possible that Murray just can’t keep up this pace, and the Cowboys are already talking about giving him some rest. But if Murray keeps running the way he’s been running, he’s going to have one of the greatest seasons any running back has ever had.