Last season, Philadelphia Eagles running back DeMarco Murray carried the ball 392 times for the Dallas Cowboys, tied for the seventh-highest total in NFL history. On Sunday night, Murray carried just twice during Philadelphia's 40-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
Two whole times.
Murray's playing time has been steadily decreasing for weeks, but this was a new low for the league's reigning rushing champion. In under two months, he's gone from starting running back to situational player to total spectator.
|Murray's Last 4 Games|
|Wk 12 @ DET||14||30||2.1||0|
|Wk 13 @ NE||8||24||3.0||0|
|Wk 14 v BUF||11||34||3.1||0|
|Wk 15 v ARZ||2||3||1.5||0|
It's impossible to blame the Eagles. Murray has been ineffective all season. His two carries on Sunday went for just three yards. Over the past four games, the two-time Pro Bowler has rushed for a paltry 2.6 yards per attempt, and on the season, he's averaging 3.4—tied among qualifying players for lowest in the league.
Meanwhile, other backs are experiencing success for the Eagles. Ryan Mathews, who's started the past two games, carried 11 times for 58 yards against the Cardinals—his 5.3 yards per attempt exactly in line with his season average. Darren Sproles has had an up-and-down year, but even he's averaging 3.8.
Blame it on the offense, blame it on Murray's own declining performance. Whatever the case, this situation is quickly becoming a disaster.
It's not as easy as accepting the marriage not working out and the two sides going their separate ways at the end of the season. According to Spotrac, Murray's contract is worth $21 million guaranteed, and if he's cut or traded this coming offseason, the Eagles would eat $13 million in dead money against the salary cap—plus whatever they pay the player that takes his spot on the roster
With a cap hit of $8 million in 2016, it's actually cheaper to keep Murray. The problem is that he's not going to be satisfied going from being the workhorse back to a role player or less.
After Sunday's loss, Murray told reporters he signed with the Eagles and was committed to making it work. However, Murray also admitted he didn't know he would get such limited playing time and added he'll go where he's wanted.
If only it were that simple.
|Murray vs. Eagles Backs|
After the game, Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said the plan was to rotate the backs and intimated that falling behind in the second half limited Murray's opportunities.
"The plan was we were going to rotate the running backs," said Kelly. "We didn't run the ball as much as we wanted to run the ball, but we rotated those three guys. We only played three tonight."
Perhaps most telling of all was the Eagles' decision to go with Mathews over Murray on a critical 4th-and-1 call in the second quarter. The Cardinals disrupted the play at the line of scrimmage, ultimately making it a moot point, but that didn't mean it wouldn't be a topic of conversation.
"We had Ryan in there who is a 230-pound back," Kelly explained. "We thought we were going to get it on 4th-and-1, the ball got bounced outside to the DB's and that's kind of the game."
While people tend to think of Murray as a north-south, power runner, he simply hasn't been that type of back this season. He hesitates in the hole, runs laterally too often and lacks the explosion to break tackles and run through defenders.
Many believe some of these issues are a function of Kelly's offense, but the reality is Murray was showing signs of decline with last season's heavy workload. His average dropped every month in 2014, from 5.4 yards per carry in September to a pedestrian 4.0 in December.
Murray hasn't been the same player this season, which explains why he's become such a small part of the offense. The question now becomes whether his role could diminish so much that he may not even be active on game day.
Quotes obtained by the author.