DETROIT -- Latavius Murray leads the AFC in rushing yards. An NFC quintet has more than his 678, though all of them have more attempts per game.
The Raiders running back averages 16 carries a contest, at least two fewer than everyone above him. Raise his carry average to 18 and stick with his efficient 4.7 yards per rush, and Murray’s production would be second only to Adrian Peterson.
Even that doesn’t prompt Murray to grease coordinator Bill Musgrave’s palm in search of more carries.
“I don’t want to be and I’ve never been the one to demand the ball or anything like that,” Murray said. “Any true competitor wants the ball in their hands. I have confidence in what I can do when I get in mine. I would never shy away from involvement of any kind. I trust in whatever they have planned for us.
“When my number’s called, I am only focused on making the most of that opportunity.”
More opportunities for Murray generally means more opportunities to win. While teams with a lead typically run more, the Raiders are 4-0 when Murray exceeds 20 carries.
While Murray is the featured player in a versatile backfield, 47 carries have been spread around to other guys. The Raiders like to accent the offense with speedy scat back Taiwan Jones and physical rushers Jamize Olawale and Marcel Reece.
Murray understands his role in the offense and Musgrave’s desire to get quality skill players involved. There’s only one ball, and Derek Carr deserves to sling it around some to Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree and Andre Holmes.
Sunday’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings was a rare instance where run-pass ratio was called into question. Murray got 12 touches and the Raiders ran 19 times in 64 snaps despite the Vikings generally playing safeties back to prevent the big play.
Sunday’s game against at Detroit might be a good time to ground and pound. The Lions rank No. 28 in run defense, allowing 124 yards per game. In four games, they’ve allowed 97 yards or more to a single rusher and lost each time.
Murray’s focus is on running better and running smarter in practice to as many touches as possible. Even deep into the season, Murray says he has plenty left to work on.
“I need to continue to trust my reads,” Murray said. “I need to protect myself whenever possible. I need to finish, assert myself into contact and, sometimes, find a way to fight through tackles and turn nothing into something.”
Sometimes that desire gets him into trouble. He forgot to secure possession before looking for big yards against Chicago, when he bobbled a pass that was intercepted and later lost a pitch with his eyes focused downfield.
He battled for extra yards against Pittsburgh, but left himself exposed to big hits that forced fumbles. He got lucky the first time, when the Steelers instantly turned his fumble for a touchdown only to have it called back because the returner stepped out of bounds. Murray took a big lick later in that game, which left him with a concussion and a lost fumble.
His running style has been a hot topic since then. He sometimes runs upright in traffic, which, at 6-foot-3, can leave him and the ball exposed.
“At point of contact you want to protect yourself get behind your shoulder pads,” Murray said. “But, at the same time, I’m going to run the way I’ve always run and they way I’ve always known how to make plays. If that means I’m going to be higher, sometimes you have to take a hit in an attempt to break those big runs. It’s about picking your spots and being smart when you can.”
Murray hasn’t been perfect in his first season as a starter, but has shown a combination of explosiveness and power that excites fans and coaches alike. The key is to keep growing as a player and as part of a cohesive run game.
“Trust has been established with the guys up front,” Murray said. “I know they’re going to open lanes for me. It’s about getting through it right and being in position to make the most out of every down, every run.”