In March of this year, the Philadelphia Eagles signed 27-year-old DeMarco Murray from NFC East rivals Dallas Cowboys in one of the most high-profile moves in the offseason. The running back, a third-round pick in the 2011 draft, had just come off the best season in his career – he had 1,845 rushing yards (a Cowboys record) and was named NFL Offensive Player of the Year.
Despite even being ranked number four in the NFL’s 100 Players to Watch list prior to this season, he is yet to fulfil this potential in an Eagles jersey. In their surprise victory at the New England Patriots, the supposed star player had just eight carries for 24 yards and was only on the field for 14 of 61 snaps as Darren Sproles was the starter.
His apparent demotion in the Week 13 clash did not come as a surprise to many. Murray’s only 100-yard game this season came in a 27-7 victory against the New York Giants and his last touchdown came a month ago in the overtime victory in Dallas.
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This was just a year after breaking the NFL record for most consecutive 100-yard rushing games to start a season with eight. As a whole, his rushing has been poor throughout the season. Perhaps he was a marked man following last season but the Eagles have had the ability to mix things up with three strong running backs in him, Sproles and Ryan Mathews.
However, this doesn’t excuse an utterly abject performance in the opening two games, which saw him gain a meagre 11 rushing yards on 21 attempts. To date this year, he has just 569 yards rushing, averaging just over 50 yards per game.
This rather begs the question as to why the Eagles would sign Murray in the first place. Nobody would have foreseen the season he has had thus far but in reality, the move was very opportunistic.
Just days before Murray signed, the Eagles actually traded away LeSean McCoy, the man who had broken the all-time franchise rushing record in the previous season after just six years in the league. Coach Chip Kelly needed a replacement that could be just as explosive as McCoy was, and being the leading rusher, Murray was the obvious choice.
Furthermore, the fact he was snatched from divisional rivals in the Cowboys gave the Eagles a sense of one-upmanship and enraged many Dallas fans. Kelly had also signed injury-prone quarterback Sam Bradford in the week before picking up Murray too; Bradford and Murray both played for the Oklahoma Sooners in college between 2007 and 2009.
Although that was six seasons prior to now, this is a strong link and perhaps an assumption was made that they would work well together – together they made a national championship game in 2009 but ultimately lost it.
However, this was far from the case. Murray thrived in Dallas in part because of the strength of their offensive line. They excelled in pulling and creating space for Murray to run into. This is not where the Eagles’ offensive line is strongest, shown by Murray’s 11 yards rushing in the first two weeks, as they tried to accommodate him into their attack.
The following week he sat out injured at the New York Jets and in his absence Mathews led the line. The O-line reverted back to creating lanes by blocking and Mathews certainly benefitted with 108 yards rushing.
It does take time for a running back to adapt to a new scheme but whilst Murray’s numbers did improve for a few weeks, they have again slumped and he remains on just four rushing touchdowns all year.
Murray came to Philadelphia full of promise but hasn’t endeared himself to the fans as yet. Actions such as his slide in the first quarter against the Miami Dolphins make some question his effort and desire to perform well.
He has also voiced his concerns with the Eagles owner, Jeffrey Lurie, over his lack of playing time in the win at the Patriots, going right over Kelly’s head. He was signed to a five-year, $42 million deal and appears to be staying put for the long term. It is clear what Murray is capable of, but things aren’t working out for him so far. There is no doubt that he needs to find his feet soon otherwise his contract may come to an end far sooner than anyone expected it to.