-- This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Nov. 24 The State of Football Issue. Subscribe today!
DeMarco Murray's sweltering start puts Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record (2,105 yards) in jeopardy. Will Dallas' workhorse get there? Here are the key metrics behind his run for history.
Crazy but true: Through Week 12, Murray had more rushing yards than 25 teams. In fact, of the six backs since 1978 who ran for 2,000-plus yards, only three -- Chris Johnson in 2009, Jamal Lewis in 2003, Terrell Davis in 1998 -- had more yards than Murray's 1,354 through 11 games (see chart). That includes Eric Dickerson's 1984 season, in which the Ram set the single-season record. To surpass Dickerson, Murray needs 752 yards over his final five contests. Five running backs have exceeded that number since 1978.
What Murray is doing now -- chasing a 30-year-old rushing record amid the greatest passing era ever -- is akin to Bart Starr throwing for 5,000 yards in, say, 1962. (He topped out at 2,438.) When Dickerson set the record, 50 percent of NFL teams averaged more than 125 rushing yards per game through Week 12, compared with just 22 percent in 2014 (see charts below). And consider: Nineteen times since 1978 an RB has had at least 265 carries through 11 games, but only four of those -- Murray (268), Edgerrin James (276 in 2005), Larry Johnson (282 in 2006) and Arian Foster (269 in 2012) -- did it the past 10 years.
Will he get there?
Murray is just the fifth running back to compile at least 265 carries and 1,350 rushing yards in his first 11 games. The previous four to do so saw a noticeable dip in production in their final five contests (see chart below). If Murray's numbers follow a similar downward path, he'd finish with 1,882 yards -- 223 short of Dickerson. More bad news: According to Football Outsiders' metrics, Dallas will face three top-11 run defenses down the stretch (Philly in Weeks 13 and 15 and Washington in Week 17).
Statistical research by Ben Bradley