The Eagles backfield has been the controversial topic from the week one loss against Atlanta to Sunday Night’s win over the Cowboys. Whether it was trying to figure out why DeMarco Murray was finding such little success or wondering why Ryan Mathews isn’t getting as many touches, fans and analysts alike have found themselves constantly talking about the Eagles Legion of Zoom but after week 9, something became very..very clear and it’s something that no other website has recognised. This backfield is working EXACTLY as Chip intended it to.
Admittedly the first four games were terrible, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what went wrong and we have all seen plenty of analysis explaining why the problems persisted, so what’s changed? Because if you compare the rushing yards in weeks 1-4 and the stats in the last 4 games, the results are staggering.
First 4 Last 4
There are a few factors to this with the blindingly obvious being DeMarco Murray’s adaptation and the chemistry with the team. As the season has progressed the Offensive line has learned how to create holes for the North/South ace as he runs out of the shotgun whilst Murray has learned how to be successful in an East and West style, replicating the sharpness of Ryan Mathews despite Mathews being the more dynamic runner…and this is where a lot of people go wrong.
This backfield was built to be a committee with DeMarco Murray leading the way in terms of touches. The problem was that he wasn’t successful until recently so the unit failed to pick up steam. In recent games however, the Eagles rank inside the top 3 for rushing teams in the last 4 weeks.
At the start of the season, many were excited about the backfield because of the “1-2 punch” it could deliver. DeMarco Murray would wear them down to the point of sloppy play and mental mistakes before Ryan Mathews would come in with a completely different style running a completely different set of plays and punish them for attempting to block “a Murray” run. The same would then happen with Darren Sproles and the game would see a constant evolution in the Eagles backfield as they attempt to confuse and wear down a Defense.
Sure Ryan Mathews may be the most dynamic of the three and he may have over 6 yards per carry but look at what happened to LeSean McCoy in his last season as an Eagle..
4 games under 50 yards rushing
11 games under 100 yards rushing
Why the decline? Because whilst McCoy was like a human video game, the runs were predictable and what people fail to recognise is that if Mathews or anybody for that matter were to run every play then the result would be the same. Once people catch on to the types of play you run consistently, the numbers will drop and that’s exactly why Mathews is not taking over 40% of snaps. Because right now he’s able to come into a game and punch through holes on 2-3 plays to pick up 20 yards or so or even a touchdown. Keeping him as an afterthought for Defenses during a game scenario means that his impact on a wounded Defense is absolutely explosive.
His numbers would have most probably bettered Murray’s (as week 4 taught us) if he was the leader in this committee but this isn’t the case. I would much rather see Mathews come in and punch for big yardage instead of seeing Murray come in and punch for none, costing the team a scoring opportunity. Murray gets the gritty yards up the gut and Mathews will run for the acres of space where Defenders aren’t predicting a run to head.
But now teams will begin to catch onto that right? So what’s happening? Ryan Mathews is lining up in the shotgun and diving up the middle whilst Murray has began to experiment with playing more laterally (with varying levels of success) and is now much more confident in changing direction mid run, throwing yet another curveball at Defenses.
Sure, the Eagles struggled Offensively because of drops, some poor throwing decisions and some poor line play at times but also because at heart..this is a running Offense. The Eagles were unable to hit the ground running and for the first time all season, they looked explosive on the ground. At one point the Eagles ran the ball NINE TIMES in a single drive for 63 yards, if that’s not ground game dominance then I don’t know what is. That number is a new season high, two more than the seven runs in a single drive the team played against Carolina.
The arguments surrounding Ryan Mathews really should not be arguments at all. He is the better back for this team and it appears everyone but the coaching staff can see it. Why? Because the coaching staff see a cohesive unit working in symphony to break the will of a Defense.
The only argument that should be echoing through this season is why the Eagles were unable to establish such dominance earlier in the season.