Bears rush defense meets Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray, finally gets tested
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The Bears haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season, and if that surprises you, it should — they gave up 2,583 rushing yards last year, the most in the history of the franchise.
The list of running backs they’ve shut down this season, though, is a veritable who’s-that: not a single rusher currently ranked in the top 12 in yards per game has been on their schedule thus far.
That changes Thursday night, when the NFL’s best takes his best shot.
The Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray leads the NFL with 118.9 rushing yards per game. His 288 attempts are tops, too — 46 more than the next-closest player, the Eagles’ LeSean McCoy.
Murray has gained triple digits on the ground in all but two games, buoyed by an offensive line comprised of three first-round picks: left tackle Tyron Smith (2011), center Travis Frederick (2013) and right guard Zack Martin (2014).
“He’s got a great line,” Marc Trestman said. “He’s got great structure. He’s got speed and power. He’s got it all.”
Play-calling, too. Trestman said the Cowboys “have as good a set of runs as you’ll see,” from zone runs to gap runs to everything in between.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Tuesday his offensive line has allowed his staff to coach to their players’ strengths, a style change from previous, more pass-happy seasons. Only three teams have attempted fewer passes than the Cowboys this season; two years ago, only two teams had more.
“DeMarco’s a big part of it, obviously,” Garrett said. “He’s got a great feel as a runner. He’s got great vision. He’s physical. He finishes downhill. He’s got good quickness, speed and elusiveness.”
The Cowboys’ mindset reminds Jared Allen of how his former team, the Vikings, fed Adrian Peterson.
“When a guy knows he’s going to get the ball 30 times a game, it’s something,” the Bears’ defensive end said. “Does something good to their psyche.”
The Cowboys will run in any situation — something seemingly foreign to a Bears team that posted eight rushing attempts against the Lions on Thursday.
“You just know that you have to stop the run,” defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “And that’s regardless of the situation.
“Second-and-long, they’ll run the ball. First-and-10, they’ll run the ball. They can be down two scores and still look to run the ball.”
Even Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer has been impressed watching the Cowboys’ scheme. An offensive line coach by trade, he admitted he enjoys a team that can run at will.
“I hope it’s not fun this week,” he said.
To the Bears’ credit, it hasn’t been fun for other teams on the ground this season.
Only nine teams allow fewer rushing yards than the Bears’ 105.5 per game. They’ve allowed 1,266 through 12 games, less than half the total from all last season. The difference between the two seasons’ yards equates to roughly three quarters of a mile — the walk from Buckingham Fountain to the north side of Soldier Field.
The Lions’ Joique Bell set the high mark for a Bears opponent Thursday with 91 yards on 23 carries.
The 49ers’ leading rusher was their quarterback (Colin Kaepernick, nine carries for 64 yards), the Vikings an upback on a fake punt (Andrew Sendejo, one for 48) and the Packers, in Week 10, somebody named DuJuan Harris (eight for 52), who parlayed his garbage-time carries into exactly zero runs since.
In half their 12 games, the Bears have allowed their opponent’s leading rusher to gain fewer than 50 yards.
But this isn’t the Panthers’ Darrin Reaves or the Falcons’ Steven Jackson or the Patriots’ Jonas Gray.
The Bears know that.
“He gets a lot of touches,” Tucker said. “It seems like he gets better with every touch. He’s a relentless competitor.”