DeMarco Murray Living Up to the Curse of 370 with the Philadelphia Eagles

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistSeptember 22, 2015

Sep 20, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles running back DeMarco Murray looks at the line judge as Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Jack Crawford tackles him in the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports
James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles should have known better. 

As head coach Chip Kelly gutted a talented roster in a second-consecutive incredibly strange offseason, the highest-profile move he made might have also been the worst. He decided, during a pass-happy era in which running backs are paid only slightly better than kickers and punters, that DeMarco Murray was worth a five-year, $40 million contract. 

For whatever reason, Kelly felt it was a good idea to replace LeSean McCoy with a slightly older back with an extensive injury history—a back only a few months removed from one of the most physically overloaded seasons in NFL history. 

I understand why Murray was a temptation for a head coach who values running the ball more than any of his 31 counterparts. After all, Murray led the NFL in rushing by a 484-yard margin last season and was the league's Offensive Player of the Year. 

But Kelly and the Eagles were seemingly oblivious to precedents that suggested Murray's heavy 2014 workload was likely to doom his productivity going forward. 

Murray entered this season as a prime candidate to suffer from what Football Outsiders terms the "Curse of 370," which, based on countless examples, posits that "a running back with 370 or more carries during the regular season will usually suffer either a major injury or loss of effectiveness the following year, unless he is named Eric Dickerson."

Dickerson was an exception to a fairly hard rule. Murray carried the ball a ridiculous 392 times last season, which was tied for the seventh-highest total in NFL history. And of the nine other players who have received 390-plus carries in a season, eight were never the same. 

Most carries in NFL history
BackYear/ageBeyond that...
Larry Johnson (416)'06/26Missed half of '07, never had 1,000 yards again
Jamal Anderson (410)'98/25Missed 14 games in '99, 3.6 YPA rest of career
James Wilder (407)'84/26One 1,000-yard season the rest of his career
Eric Dickerson (404)'86/26Three more 1,000-yard seasons
Eddie George (403)'00/26Averaged 3.4 YPA rest of his career
Gerald Riggs (397)'85/24One 1,000-yard season the rest of his career
DeMarco Murray (392)'14/26Worst two-game start at RB in NFL history
Terrell Davis (392)'98/26Played only 16 more games
Ricky Williams (392)'03/26One 1,000-yard season the rest of his career
Barry Foster (390)'92/23Played only two more sub-1,000-yard years
Pro Football Reference

Eight quarters don't make a season, but two games into the 2015 campaign, Murray is following in the footsteps of everybody on that list not named Dickerson. 

One year after averaging 115.3 rushing yards per game, he has 11 yards on 21 carries thus far in 2015, which works out to just 0.52 yards per attempt. No other back in football with at least 20 carries has an average below 1.90. 

Lowest YPA averages among backs with 20+ carries, 2015
BackCarriesYardsYPA
DeMarco Murray21110.5
Devonta Freeman22432.0
C.J. Anderson24562.3
Rashad Jennings22642.9
Pro Football Reference

Only three of his 21 rushes have gained more than three yards, while he's been stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage 38 percent of the time. 

Fewest yards on 20+ carries during first 2 weeks, NFL history
BackYearCarriesYards
DeMarco Murray20152111
Ki-Jana Carter19962127
Dexter Bussey19822028
Keith Byars19862134
Ron Johnson19742936
Brent Fullwood19902037
* Post-1970 merger (Pro Football Reference)

And it's not just a Murray thing, as fellow highly touted back Ryan Mathews has just four yards on four carries thus far. 

That's why this isn't all about the Curse of 370 or even Murray personally. It should be noted that Kelly also hurt his new running back's chances of becoming an anomaly by letting two veteran guards, his starting quarterback and his No. 1 receiver leave in the offseason. 

As a result, the Philadelphia offense isn't offering Murray close to as much support as he had in Dallas, where the Cowboys benefited from the league's highest-rated passer, an All-Pro No. 1 receiver and three Pro Bowl offensive linemen. 

It's not as though quarterback Nick Foles was a star, but he did post the third-highest passer rating in NFL history during a historic 2013 season. Yet Kelly gave up on Foles after he crashed back to earth in 2014 and is now gambling on perma-injured bust Sam Bradford, who is second in the NFL with four interceptions.

It hasn't helped that a receiving corps making do without top 2013 receiver DeSean Jackson and top 2014 weapon Jeremy Maclin—both of whom Kelly discarded—has already dropped at least half a dozen passes. According to what I feel is a conservative estimate from Pro Football Focus, new top option Jordan Matthews has dropped three on his own. 

And the line took a tremendous hit when Kelly decided to release Pro Bowl left guard Evan Mathis rather than give him a raise, which left the Eagles devoid of experience and talent on both sides of center Jason Kelce (Kelly also cut veteran Todd Herremans). Mathis' replacement, Allen Barbre, has received negative early reviews as a run-blocker from PFF

It's no wonder Murray has more yards after contact (16) than he does altogether (11). 

He's already lost five or more yards on four carries, which is something only two backs (Murray and Jonathan Stewart) did more than three times in all of 2014. He has lost five yards more often than he has gained five yards. 

"I don't even think the running backs even had time to even assess that there was a hole," Kelly said, regarding Sunday's performance against the Dallas Cowboys, per the Dallas Morning News. "There was too much penetration up front. Too many guys in the backfield."

And it's not as though Murray's poor performances came against overwhelmingly good defenses. While the Atlanta Falcons and the Cowboys played well on that side of the ball in Weeks 1 and 2, Atlanta had the lowest-rated defense in football last season, and Dallas was missing two stud front-seven defenders in Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain on Sunday. 

How did the Eagles not see this coming? Not only did the overworked Murray's numbers drop significantly late last season, and not only did it become obvious those numbers would keep dropping as he aged, but the Eagles stripped the offense of parts that could have softened that blow. 

Considering that injuries and inconsistency plagued his first three years in the league, Murray's success during the 2014 season made him richer and more famous than many imagined possible. He was never as good as his 2014 numbers suggested (for proof, look no further than backup Joseph Randle's 6.7 yards per carry behind that jacked offensive line), and now his production has disappeared as his worn-down body tries to deal with the personnel suicide pass Kelly threw his way this summer. 

I'm not suggesting Murray will average 0.5 yards per carry the entire season and the Eagles will finish 0-16. This is a new-look offense still getting acclimated to Kelly's system, and there will be better days. Kelly's smart enough to adjust, and Bradford, Murray, Darren Sproles, Mathews, Matthews, Jason Peters, Kelce, Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz and rookie first-round pick Nelson Agholor make up a solid enough offensive base to compete, especially in the ragged NFC East. 

This two-game disaster is an extreme, not the norm, but it's a strong indication that Murray will never return to his 2014 All-Pro form, which is a big reason why those who had bloated expectations based on a successful and promising preseason had better reconsider their goals for the team in 2015. 

 

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.