Eagles run game has taken one step forward and fourteen steps back

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All season long, fans of the Philadelphia Eagles have been begging for Chip Kelly to give more snaps to Ryan Mathews. When Murray went down back in September, Mathews enjoyed a hugely successful game in his absence against the Jets and as the poor games from the former Cowboy began to add up, it only made sense to give him the ball..well last night it finally happened..but was it the right call?

Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles are two incredibly explosive backs and any fan who says that they didn’t want Chip to bench Murray is simply lying. It was the obvious choice that was made way too late in the season. Chip Kelly made the right choice for the team..but it was after the opening kick where things began to falter.

Ryan Mathews ended with 58 yards on 11 rushes whilst Sproles carried the ball just six times ahead of Murray’s two. The backfield combined for a woeful 74 yards total rushing..but the problem wasn’t in benching Murray..it was working out how to sustain a running game without him. The Eagles ran the ball 20 times out of 61 plays..this is the closest to the absurd week one ratio saw in which Sam Bradford threw over 50 times. But why was the running game so stagnant?

It almost looked as though the team hit the reset switch and forgot any progress they had previously made. Mathews was running the same plays Murray would, the swing passes were ineffective and whilst Mathews is more elusive and able to bounce around more..a dive up the middle isn’t intended for that style of running back.

Mathews thrives on plays in which he can get to the outside and burst into an open lane. That was tough to come by against the Cardinals..it didn’t help that their Defense ranks among the best against the run in the league but the plays didn’t adapt to reflect that..the team tried the same style with Mathews as the lead back as they did when Murray was taking the majority of snaps.

And there lies the problem..if you hire a new driver for your race-team, sure he may achieve slightly better results (like an average of 5.3 yards per carry as opposed to Murray’s 4) but there won’t be a miraculous turnaround if it’s the same car with no alterations.

The boldest statement of all came on a crucial 4th and inches situation..a scenario in which Murray has been solid all season (15/15 from 3rd/4th and short) and yet for some reason they went with Mathews. Nobody knows if Murray would have made the play but if Chip’s all about going with the hot hand it makes sense to give the ball to a guy who shines in that area.

This caught everyone out but the result in the end may not have mattered all that much. Mathews went on to fumble twice, something that’s plagued him throughout his career as the Eagles Offense collapsed in the closing moments of the game.

You’d think with Chip starting Mathews that he would naturally re-work the playbook to contain much more of those explosive plays that saw him rocket into obtaining one of the highest YPC averages in the league..but instead they continued to throw the same mud at a different wall, hoping some of it would stick.

The loss to the Cardinals was scarily reminiscent to that suffered against the Falcons back in week one in many aspects..but the running game was perhaps the most alarming. Murray had learned to adapt over time which meant he built up a rapport with the Line, he’d know where the holes would be. Mathews came into this game having started just twice before this season and who was previously a situational back..he now has to go through the same process Murray did. The good news is that it won’t take half as long because he’s far more physical and much more balanced. But the signs of a total reset were hard to ignore.

Who’s to say it won’t benefit the team in the long run? With two games remaining and a long off-season ahead..perhaps Chip thinks he’s found his new starting back for the future. If that’s the case then next season could well be a career year for Mathews.

Was the decision to bench Murray the right one? Absolutely. Was the decision to keep Mathews in on 4th down the right one? Probably not. Was the decision to attack an established Defense with the same rushing game that has proved ineffective all season despite benching your lead back the right one? It’s the decision that cost the Eagles the football game.