It isn’t so much the year of the quarterback in the NFL as the league of the quarterback. Pass-first is now an ongoing reality, not a temporary trend, and the numbers show no sign of a letup.
The 303 total touchdown passes entering Week 7 are an all-time high. Also on pace to set records: the league-wide 91.0 passer rating, 63.3 completion percentage and 7.27 yards per attempt.
Personifying the escalating arms race, Peyton Manning, the King of Fling, on Sunday could break the career mark for TD passes. He’s at 506 in 57 fewer games – more than 3½ seasons faster – than it took Brett Favre to reach 508.
It’s against the NFL’s airborne new normal that DeMarco Murray stands out.
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It isn’t the year of the running back.
It’s the year of the Cowboys’ running back.
Murray is why Dallas is 5-1, why the dust is off the “America’s Team” sign, why Cowboys fans are thinking Super Bowl, why Jerry Jones is smiling.
Murray is why Tony Romo’s 191 pass attempts through six games are his fewest since becoming a starter in 2007. And also why Dallas leads the league in rushing attempts (33.3) and rushing yards (160.3) per game.
The passing era has not exactly turned the running back archaic or into a curiosity facing extinction. The best ones stand out as exceptions now, though, reminders of a different time.
Just two years ago a pre-scandalized Adrian Peterson topped 2,000 yards for Minnesota.
Just last year Marshawn Lynch was the ground-level centerpiece of Seattle’s championship run.
Now it is Murray’s year. He has joined the great Jim Brown (from 1958) as the only running backs to begin a season with six consecutive 100-yard games.
Murray’s 785 yards are obliterating the competition. His nearest challenger has 542 yards. Murray is on mathematical pace for 2,093 yards, which means Eric Dickerson’s enduring 1984 league record of 2,105 may be well within reach.
The key for Murray will be durability, good health and consistency. The pursuit of Dickerson can abide no injury, no off month. Some may recall that Terrell Davis, in 1998, became the first RB ever to reach 1,000 yards in his seventh game. He seemed a good bet to break Dickerson’s mark. He wasn’t. He didn’t.
Murray is the current narrow betting favorite to win the NFL MVP award. That would make him unusual but not rare. Eighteen of the 57 MVPs (31.6 percent) have been running backs since the award started in 1957, and they have been spread pretty evenly across time:
1950s (2) – Jim Brown (twice).
1960s (3) – Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Jim Brown.
1970s (4) – Larry Brown, O.J. Simpson, Walter Payton, Earl Campbell.
1980s (1) – Marcus Allen.
1990s (4) – Thurman Thomas, Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Terrell Davis.
2000s (3) – Marshall Faulk, Shaun Alexander, LaDainian Tomlinson.
2010s (1) – Adrian Peterson.
There is no disputing the modern NFL is ruled by arm and air. But there also is no arguing there always is room on the marquee for the running back able to buck the trend and bring football back down to earth.