The Eagles backfield has been the subject of much debate all season long. From whether DeMarco Murray fits the system to whether or not he will even be in Philly at the end of this season, we’ve heard it all. But as the controversy continues to build, people are overlooking one very simple thing..if Chip Kelly hadn’t traded LeSean McCoy or at least bought in Mathews..we would have next to no running game at all.
The plan going into this season was to create a running back committee and obviously free up funds for Sam Bradford as we found out this past week. Unfortunately this is where things got messy and where many Eagles fans were and are still upset that their all-time rushing leader LeSean McCoy was traded.
Without criticising Murray’s struggles or the move itself..lets look at the bigger picture and apply the same scenario if McCoy had stayed in Philadelphia.
McCoy missed two weeks early in the season and the games he would have missed if he were on the Eagles is where things get interesting.
Week 4: Redskins
Week 5: Saints
In that scenario, the lone backup would be Darren Sproles. Sproles is an absolutely incredible back..there’s no denying it. But in short doses. He explodes onto the scene for a few drives picking up huge yards before returning quietly to the sideline so people will forget and be ill prepared for his next outburst a few drives later. Against the Patriots for instance, Sproles was the lead back and only rushed for 66 yards on 15 carries.
The problem with the Eagles Offense last season appeared to be that people caught on to how Kelly ran the ball. The counter was that McCoy could override that by bouncing around and making his own holes..but even then he struggled. McCoy had 300 less rushing yards than he did the year before with just 4 100 yard games.
Now obviously this is where the Eagles backfield has been tested this season. Both Murray and Mathews have missed games with injury and whilst the backfield hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, as a whole they could still have as many 100 yard rushing games as they did last season after the committee ran for 116 yards against Buffalo. In fact, all of Shady’s numbers are still realistically attainable and some are even better than they were last year.
What’s one crucial part of sustaining this Offense? Converting third downs. Last season the Eagles converted 78% of third downs that were less than three yards away, this season they’ve converted 92.3%. Between 3-7 yards..the team are also up on last year by 5%.
We’re not saying the move for McCoy was genius or even that our backfield is better than it was last season. But what people are overlooking is that Chip tried to counter the Defense reading the plays by adding more unpredictability and also wanted to cut a huge amount off the salary cap to make the moves he deemed to be relevant.
This season has very much been a trial for the new backfield. What works, what doesn’t. For fans it was obvious early on..Murray needs less snaps and we need to stop swing passes on every opening play among other common faults. It may have taken Chip a while to make the right moves but in the first game that Mathews has been the lead back with Murray in the game..the backfield hit a total of 100 yards and even sustained a drive of over five minutes.
A lot of people expected this revamped unit to blow up and make the lives of opposing Defenses incredibly difficult. The result is far from it, but the ground work has been laid. The Eagles have had countless injuries that have impacted the running backs this season and without the added depth that was brought in this off-season, the situation would be much..much worse.
With the snaps being split between the backs it’s still so easy to see that the theory works. Mathews will storm into a game and pick up a huge first down before the versatility of Sproles will see him catch a pass for a first down one drive later.
Whilst we’re on that topic, all three backs have been absolutely critical in the passing Offense, whether that be through swing passes, wheel routes or even lining up in the slot..it was something that until this season was seemingly minimal in Kelly’s scheme. Sure the yardage may not be as impressive as it could be but when your entire receiving core is dropping key passes for half of the season, this kind of versatility is so important. Now that the receivers are catching passes confidently (even Agholor is beginning to finally find his feet) the running game has opened up massively and proved to be essential to both of the Eagles recent wins.
The problem is finding the missing link (or dealing with it..cough Demarco) and replacing it with a back of similar intensity who fits the system..or at least finding a way to utilise Murray in the final games.
The Eagles have four great running backs who have all raised eyebrows at one stage this season…most teams struggle to have two. Look at Dallas for instance…Chip has created a very dangerous backfield and in the most deficient areas of last season, we have come on leaps and bounds. The rest comes down to play-calling, some sour grapes and making the right decisions for the team instead of the right decisions for the finances.