The Eagles backfield finally picked up some momentum in week five and was able to rush for 186 yards on 34 carries and whilst this is a drastic improvement over what we have seen in the previous four games, it’s brought up an entirely new debate..is Ryan Mathews the best fit to lead the charge out of the backfield and if so, is Chip Kelly aware?
The best evidence of Chip Kelly experimenting so to speak comes in the first quarter of play against the Saints. Murray’s opening rushes looked like this;
1 yard (rushing left end)
2 yards (middle)
1 yard (middle)
9 yards (planned for middle, juked outside)
All four of the opening runs were aimed to punch straight through the middle and just like previous weeks, were largely ineffective. But Chip persisted early on to see if Murray could find a way to punch through holes the same way he did in Dallas. He did well to shake off a tackle on his nine yard gain before juking to the outside to complete the play and for me, it was the first sign of life we have seen from Murray in this Offense..realising that the play works much better laterally than when running straight up the middle..purely because the Offensive Line are yet to find a way to force holes open.
Insert Ryan Mathews, whose opening three runs looked like this;
7 yards (middle)
16 yards (rushing left end)
6 yards (rushing left end)
All three of these runs by Mathews involved great footwork and broken tackles. He saw a gap in the O-line when running under center for a 7 yard gain before rushing twice to the left hand side to pick up a total of 22 yards in just two plays…but this is where things get interesting. Because after Mathews had completed those three runs, Chip Kelly reverted to running with DeMarco Murray…but changed something.
Murrays next three runs looked like this;
3 yards (rushing left end)
24 yards (rushing left end)
3 yards (middle, C)
Not only were the first two runs aimed at the outside, but the running style became incredibly similar to that of Mathews. The problem I noticed with Murray early on is that he spends far too long running across the line, looking for a hole. Mathews has a tendency to create his own space if one doesn’t open up as opposed to take a tackle.
UPDATE: DeMarco Murray doing DeMarco Murray things. pic.twitter.com/91D5VJcVX0
— Faux NFL Network™ (@FauxNFLnetwork) October 11, 2015
It was almost as if Chip Kelly instructed Murray to become a little more decisive when running the ball..to make a choice and dart for it. That’s when the “dirty” runs started to come up. Murray began to hit his stride and continue to pick up yards.
Into the second half, Murray had ten rushes…seven of which were aimed at the outside with only three coming from the middle. Of those three, one was of the I formation for a touchdown and NONE came from the shotgun. Murray ended the game on 83 yards and the most carries in a game he’s had all season with 20. Why the sudden increase? The assumption is that after the comments in the press in week 4, Chip Kelly addressed the situation and tried to find a way to get Murray more involved. The result? Having Murray learn how to be successful in this offense by mirroring the style of play Mathews embodies.
If this play was a Ryan Mathews one, it would have been a huge gain. But Murray is still adjusting to an east/west style and is most likely not used to the pressure coming when finding a hole. But as play went on…Murray became much more physical.
Remember when DeMarco Murray could break these tackles? #Eagles pic.twitter.com/NarANCo1Dm
— Will Reeve Jr. (@WillReeveJr) October 11, 2015
Ryan Mathews ended the day on 8 carries for 73 yards and was easily the more efficient of the two. But what we saw at the start of the game caught my eye. Murray was tried and tested when it came to running the ball up the middle, they then insert Mathews who the Defense expect to do the same and he punishes them with a nasty 24 yard game..exploding into the game.
Chip Kelly mentioned earlier today that the team ran the ball outside more than any other game this year and you can see why. But it’s almost as if Chip has seen something. Teams have began to plan around DeMarco Murray. The Cowboys took him out of the game as did the Falcons and in week 3, the Jets didn’t know what to expect. Week four saw a steady return for Murray and Mathews continued his consistent incline.
If Defenses plan on stopping the run up the middle because the Eagles attempt it so often with a weak line then it opens the door for Mathews to shine..but now that’s becoming predictable. So what’s happened is that Chip has DeMarco taking more snaps and a huge percentage of those are going to the outside..why?
- It confuses the Defense. If DeMarco Murray..one of the finest North/South runners in the game starts sweeping plays on the outside and the team aren’t ready for it then there’s a problem. You can see the progression in Murray’s style too. The second half as mentioned was much more assertive. He began to create the holes and not just run through them. He’d juke around, find space and run to the sideline..something that not many thought he would be capable of doing.
2. So when the team are so focused on stopping Murray, who took almost double the snaps of Mathews, it allows the former charger to run his own style because again, the team are adjusting to Murray. This may have been the grand plan all along, it’s just taken a longer backroad to get here. With Mathews bursting into the game and picking up big yards, the team have to try and watch both avenues..the outside..and the punches through the middle. That or you surrender a “Murray style” run that ends in a touchdown to Ryan Mathews.
So if a team is more conservative when pressing the Offensive line, DeMarco Murray has MUCH more room to punch up the middle if needed and more space on the outside to create a play. Because he knows if a team push all their linebackers on rushing the edge, he has a gaping hole through center..if they try and push through the trenches and get there, last years leading rusher is already half way down the sideline.
It’s quite possibly the most confusing smokescreen in the NFL…and then you add Darren Sproles into the mix. There are a lot of articles at the moment claiming that Mathews is better suited to this Offense…and that may be true. There are those saying that Murray should be taking fewer reps than Mathews..they are incorrect. Why?
Because this is a three headed beast capable of ruining any Defense in the NFL…the moment you marginalise it’s potential, you end up with a 2014 rushing game that we say McCoy run. It’s good until someone figures it out…you can’t shimmy out of every linebacker..especially when they read your every play.
It may have taken a while to get going, but Chip Kelly may have the foundations of the most dominant backfield in the NFL..there’s a long way to go until we can call him a genius..but he is certainly going under the radar with this kind of a motive…and once again, we’re here to break the internet. Stop sleeping on us. Stop sleeping on the Eagles. Stop sleeping on Chip Kelly. Because we are all coming for the throne.