All-22: How Murray Compares To McCoy
Chip Kelly stood before reporters at the NovaCare Complex yesterday defending a trade he made back in March.
The deal — sending LeSean McCoy to Buffalo in exchange for Kiko Alonso — couldn’t have turned out much worse for the Eagles so far. Out of 46 running backs who have the qualified number of carries, McCoy ranks 12th in yards per rush this season, while Alonso has battled injuries and struggled.
“I think we did the right thing at the time,” Kelly said yesterday. “We traded an outstanding running back for a linebacker. But we also traded $700,000 for $11.9 million. I think with all of those situations, there’s money involved. One of the things we had was, we had a lot of players who were older and at the ends of their contracts that were making big money.”
Even when counting Alonso’s cap hit and the dead money the Eagles incurred from McCoy’s contract by trading him, Philadelphia saved nearly $8 million. Soon after the trade, Kelly said he looked at the deal in terms of getting both Alonso and Byron Maxwell, the free agent signing who has a $8.7 million cap hit in 2015, according to Spotrac.
However, Maxwell hasn’t been very good either, which can also be said about the replacement running back who has taken the bulk of McCoy’s carries. But while DeMarco Murray ranks 43rd out of qualified running backs in yards per attempt, Ryan Mathews is averaging nearly six yards per carry.
With McCoy coming back to town on Sunday, scrutiny of the trade — and more specially, the Eagles running backs — has intensified. McCoy is obviously more productive than Murray, but was he a bad fit in Kelly’s system? After leading the league in rushing last season, why has Murray been so bad? And even if the Eagles offensive line has struggled, why has Mathews flourished?
In search for a little clarity, we took to the film and talked to a running back who has played for Kelly both in college and the NFL.
HOW MCCOY FIT
At the time of the trade, many people were stunned. Not necessarily because the deal was a bad one for the Eagles, but because McCoy ranks first in franchise history in rushing yards, second in yards from scrimmage and third in rushing touchdowns.
However, his production dipped — as well as the entire unit’s — from his first season in Kelly’s offense to his second, while questions circulated about how well he fit into his coach’s scheme.
“The way I run the ball has been productive since I’ve been in the league,” McCoy told The MMQB’s Andy Benoit during the offseason. “So I don’t know why I would change it. There’s tons of backs that can bang it up in there, but those guys usually just … you don’t really talk about them too much.”
According to Kenjon Barner, there are three options for running backs each time they carry the ball: bang, bend or bounce. “Bang” refers to hitting the hole where the play is designed to go, “bounce” means running past the hole and trying to reach the outside, and “bend” means cutting back.
Clearly, McCoy’s aversion to bang in favor of bending or bouncing has paid dividends. One example McCoy pointed out to Benoit was his 26-yard run against the Lions in 2013. The running back referred to it as “dancing they kill me for,” while Benoit mentioned how many head coaches would want him to go downhill immediately instead of what he did.
“Uh huh. But that ain’t me,” McCoy said. “I don’t sweat it because, I mean, this is what I do.”
When asked if that’s the hole Kelly would want his running back to hit, Barner said: “That’s just Shady being Shady, man. He made a play.”
However, McCoy also touched on a run he lost seven yards on against the Cardinals last season, which he said summed up “the good and the bad” of his style.
“I try to outrun him; then right here I should have just …” Called it a day? “Yeah.”
Kelly and McCoy certainly seem to approach rushing differently, especially when you juxtapose McCoy’s comments on his style with Barner’s explanation of what Kelly looks for in a running back.
McCoy: “What I bring to the table is that special type of twitch, to see different things, to go up the middle, bounce it out, bounce it left, you know? That’s why I’m one of the elite backs in the league. Not because I can just bang it up in the middle.”
Barner: “He definitely likes a guy that can take that mid-zone mindset and turn it up. This is the NFL. You have to take what you can get. The big play will come eventually. This isn’t college where you can be the fastest guy on the field who keeps taking it to the sideline. That ain’t gonna happen. You have to hit it up in there.”
HOW MURRAY FITS
Talking to Barner made it clear why Kelly may view Murray as a better fit than McCoy, even though the latter was much more productive in the system. The head coach also touched on the topic in March.
“[Murray] is a physical, downhill runner, really what in a zone scheme we’re looking for. A downhill, one-cut runner,” Kelly said. “Both him and Ryan, I think, possess those qualities.”
However, whether you look at the stats or the film, Murray simply hasn’t performed. When asked this week about why that is, Kelly pointed to Murray’s teammates.
“I think we’ve had different moving parts. Jason Peters has been out for part of three games and then missed a game, you know what I mean?” Kelly said. “[Andrew] Gardner started the year for us; he was out, we have missed some there. Sam [Bradford] has missed some games. We haven’t had everybody on the offensive side of the ball in there. We’ve had some drops at the receiver spot.”
But why has Mathews had success with all of that happening, and not Murray?
“It’s all by game, so you kind of look at it where we had success as a group in the Jets game,” Kelly said. “DeMarco didn’t play in the Jets game, but there have been times when DeMarco has played really well for us.”
This argument doesn’t make much sense either, because the Eagles didn’t have “success as a group” against the Jets. While Mathews carried the ball 24 times for 108 yards, Darren Sproles rushed 11 times for just 17 yards.
And if you do look by game in which both Murray and Mathews played, Mathews’ production still blows Murray out of the water (6.4 yards per attempt vs. 3.5). However, in those contests, Mathews averaged about six carries per games.
When asked why Murray is averaging such few yards, Kelly didn’t alter his answer.
“Because we haven’t been successful overall offensively the way we’d like to be,” he said.
One thing Kelly is right about, however, is how Murray runs out of the shotgun. The running back has talked about how he likes running under center, but that isn’t reflected in his performance.
The sample size — 24 carries — is small, but he averages almost an entire yard less under center than out of the shotgun. Last season, when Murray ran 37 times out of the shotgun, his yards per carry was still slightly higher than it was under center.
Per Pro Football Focus, both Mathews and Darren Sproles average more yards per attempt from shotgun as well this year.
Back in Dallas, Murray ran a lot of stretches and counter-sweeps, according to Kelly. Although the Eagles will sometimes run similar plays, they certainly aren’t a staple like they are for the Cowboys. Kelly also said that comparing Murray’s numbers this season to last season (3.5 yards per carry vs. 4.7) is unfair.
“They did a really nice job in terms of what they were doing offensively, but it’s a different dynamic,” he said. “You’ve got a wide receiver outside that’s going to get doubled on every play because he may be the best receiver in the game in Dez Bryant. You’ve got a Hall-of-Fame tight end (Jason Witten). It’s a different dynamic in terms of how people defended Dallas [and] in terms of how people defend us.
“To compare what he was like in this to what he is now, you’ve got so many different moving parts, it’s not a — I don’t think the comparison fits in any aspect of the matter.”
HOW MATHEWS FITS
When Kelly talked about Mathews this week, I thought he did a great job of (inadvertently) explaining why Mathews has been better than Murray.
“He may be the most explosive one we have there [at running back],” Kelly said. “When you watch the run against — with the groin, the run against Carolina where he hits the home run from 60, I think he has got that kind of extra gear than all of those guys.”
Murray, meanwhile, hasn’t shown any extra burst like Mathews did on that touchdown run. Despite carrying the ball less than half as much as Murray, Mathews has the Eagles’ two longest runs of the season.
Perhaps Murray has simply lost a step after carrying the ball almost 400 times last season, but he is nowhere close to the running back we saw in Dallas. Even before last year, Murray averaged more than five yards per carry twice in his first three seasons.
“This is new for me,” Murray said yesterday. “Obviously a new offense, a new scheme, and every day I’ve told you guys the same thing, week by week: the more reps you get, the more plays you get on the field, the more comfortable you get. It’s not an overnight process with me.”