By: Michael Conroy
Somehow, someway the Philadelphia Eagles always manage to keep us on our toes. Yesterday, The franchise made just their latest in what is becoming a long line of splash moves, inking former Cowboys running back, — and defending rushing champ — Demarco Murray to a 5-year, $42 million contract with upwards of $20 million guaranteed. Whether or not his signing is a responsible appropriation of resources is, at this point, irrelevant. Murray is now an Eagle, focused — like the rest of us — on bringing that elusive first championship to Philadelphia.
There’s no question that Demarco Murray is a talented runner. What’s less certain, however, is how well that talent will make the transition into Chip Kelly’s offensive scheme. We looked to the tape for some answers.
Due to their difference in physical stature, you may be under the impression that Murray and Lesean Mccoy have little in common. In reality, they’re running style is nearly identical. The former Cowboy did most of his damage running outside of the tackles, from a traditional “I-Formation,” in 2014.
For the sake of comparison, we can take a look at a play the Eagles ran quite often last season. It’s about as close as Chip Kelly’s playcalling came to that of Jason Garrett. One key difference you’ll notice between the two systems is that the Eagles almost never use a fullback. This is important as Demarco Murray frequently used the blocking of Tyler Clutts to set up his larger gains. Still, the Eagles frequently bring tight-ends into the backfield in a fullback role.
Post-snap, all of the action immediately flows to the left. You can even see second-level Cowboys players beginning to lean. It looks as if two or three lanes have already opened wide.
This is the same play, believe it or not. Sanchez quickly spins and makes a delayed handoff to Mccoy, countering the aggressive movement of the Dallas defense. Here is where things get interesting. Mccoy knows where this play is designed to go, but he cuts back. He sees a linebacker coming up to meet him in the hole that’s been created. This is where a true “North-South” runner might put his head down and get that four yards his team has already blocked for.
Instead, Mccoy makes a drastic cutback and gets skinny between two of his guards. By and large, these risky cutbacks and shifty maneuvers are what made Lesean “Shady” Mccoy a star in the first place. The cannot be said for the downhill “workhorse” back, Demarco Murray…or can it?
Here, we see an almost identical play being run by the Dallas Cowboys with no fullback in the backfield and the quarterback taking the snap under-center.
Romo takes the snap and starts to his right. A deliberate step from Murray really sells the second-level Eagles defenders that this play is headed toward the right side of the field.
Instead, Demarco Murray cuts back to the left, away from the action where a gaping hole seems to be opening. Again, this is where a true one-cut north-south runner would head up behind tight-end James Hanna, netting a sizeable gain.
Much like Lesean Mccoy, Demarco Murray hesitates. He has a clear path to a positive play, but he wants more. Murray allows his trailing blocker to get out in front and seal off the Philadelphia defender.
In down-right Shady-esque fashion, Murray gets skinny between his blockers and squeezes through, into the second-level of the Eagles’ defense.
This is just one comparison between the two running backs, but it certainly appears that Demarco Murray is a far more comparable back to Lesean Mccoy than many believe. There is, however, one area where one might think Demarco Murray must be an upgrade over Lesean Mccoy. That is in the dreaded redzone.
Situations such as the one pictured above have plagued the Eagles for the better part of a decade. At times it seems laughable that those final 2-3 yards would be so maddeningly difficult to pick up. Surely, a back as big and strong as Demarco Murray will be able to remedy this situation, right?
Here, Murray takes the ball from Romo, sprinting towards the goal line with just over five yards to gain. Granted, the goal line is muddled as it’s likely to be in any NFL game, but all the same, the Dallas o-line has created enough room for their running back to head up the middle like a battering ram and push his way to 6 points.
Instead, Murray decides against a down-hill approach. He exhibits familiar finesse tendencies, cutting back and seeking out less contested running space. Because this was a game against the Philadelphia Eagles defense, and because they desperately needed this win, of course he found that space and scored. Still, it’s easy to recall instances in 2014 when this finesse approach cost the Philadelphia Eagles dearly. This isn’t to say that this style hasn’t been effective for both Mccoy and Murray,, but that — stylistically — the two aren’t far apart.
It’s easy to make an assumption based on height and weight, that Chip Kelly acquired a more powerful running back in Demarco Murray; one that might better fit his fast-paced system. But even if Murray is the more powerful back, he certainly doesn’t run like it. In reality, the former Cowboy is a shifty runner who prefers to do his damage outside the numbers. Fortunately, for the Eagles, he’s pretty damn good at it.
We’ll certainly become more familiar with Demarco Murray in the coming years. If he can remain healthy, his role in Chip Kelly’s offense will be vital. Just don’t expect Murray to be someone he is not.