For the first time this season, DeMarco Murray hit 100 rushing yards in a single game and scored a rushing touchdown to go along with it, but why was he finally able to have the kind of game fans have been crying out for? It all starts with the play calling.
Murray had struggled massively in the opening few weeks of the season and after going down with an injury, the Eagles went back to basics against the Jets with Ryan Mathews by focusing on sweeping the ball to the outside. But with Murray, they never quite found the same momentum. They tried running him from the Shotgun, they tried running him from under center and they tried mirroring what we saw with Mathews, so what changed in week 6?
As noted in the Eagle Eye in the Sky podcast, Murray started his runs just behind Bradford as opposed to directly alongside him. This meant that by the time he hit the line of scrimmage not only was there more chance of a hole opening up but he would be approaching it much quicker than if he started just a few steps forward.
But the biggest factor, was using their own predictability as a weapon. Ryan Mathews in the past has been so dominant on the outside zone runs and Murray has experienced mixed success, but it’s been a play they have persisted with since the seasons beginning. Mathews ran for 40 yards on eight stretch runs against the Falcons alone for example. But the play has become so predictable that when Defenses see Murray in the backfield and offset, they know it’s an outside run.
So what did the Eagles do to counter?
They move Murray to an inside zone route but line him up in the same spot. You can see the confusion almost instantly as the D-Line backfires and has to adjust to Murray’s inside route but by then, it’s too little..too late.
We see the same again here. Out of the Shotgun, the Offensive Line does a great job of pushing to the outside, misleading the rest of the team into thinking Murray is going on an outside sweep, but he cuts to an inside zone for a big gain.
DeMarco Murray = downhill running back.
vine via @fduffy3 https://t.co/UevnYffW3m
— Eagles SPORTalk (@SPORTalkEagles) October 21, 2015
This 2nd&5 early on further shows the developments made not only to the play-calling but to Murray’s natural adaptation. Usually, he would dart outside and gain about 3-4 yards, but instead charged through the hole the blockers created and was able to pick up the first down. In the opening few weeks both pre and post injury, Murray was so set on one route that if often became difficult to watch, but that’s through no fault of his own. He’s a north/south ace and you expect that from someone of his pedigree. But what has been interesting is that as the weeks go by, he’s almost showing shades of the ultimate running back. Once he gets open on a reception or breaks through the trenches he is an almost unstoppable downhill running back, and more importantly at the line of scrimmage he has gone from a go for the directed hole regardless of the outcome (what we saw in Dallas with a much stronger line) type running back, to a more tactically minded and dare I say it versatile back.
This is potentially the best example from the entire game. What was supposed to be a run up the middle ended in an outside sweep and some big yards after a Miles Austin block. How many times in the opening weeks did we see DeMarco Murray charge at the line of scrimmage and fall flat or even worse lose yards because of poor blocking and an inability to change direction?
Well, that problem seems to have vanished. Murray is surveying the field more and it’s almost as if Chip addressed the “more snaps” issue and explained what’s needed from DeMarco if he is to touch the ball more. We’re seeing less of this one dimensional running back threat and more of the back that this system needs. The decision making tweaks that last years rushing champion has made have been absolutely crucial to the success of his own season, and his teams.
He may have struggled in the early stages, but it looks as though the Eagles have found a way to finally unleash the beast. By making him a multi-dimensional threat. If he’s not fooling lineman on actual runs, he’s making them misdirect in Bootleg passes, a play that handed Jordan Matthews a lot of his success last year. Again, Murray takes off to the outside making almost the entire Giants Defense follow suit, thus allowing Bradford to find his man deep on the inside for a big play.
No longer are people saying Mathews is the better suited back. Why? Because Murray is running in an almost mirror style to the former San Diego Charger. His prowess as a downhill runner is unprecedented and this new found style of thinking before committing to a run combined with the Eagles catching out opposing Defenses using their own predictability as a weapon has seen Murray’s numbers sky rocket in both touches and yards. The best part is? If DeMarco Murray can show this new found versatility in the coming weeks, he may tap into the best form of his career with these new plays in essence being built around him and his style.