I don't know that I've ever before seen the odd mixture of joy and confusion displayed by Eagles fans reacting to the news that running back DeMarco Murray was dealt to the Titans. No one could believe someone actually wanted him, and no one could believe they actually received something in return (a move up from pick 113 to 100 in the fourth round).
So how did the NFL’s leading rusher and offensive player of the year from 2014 become public enemy No. 1 for Eagles fans in the span of less than a year? Put bluntly, Murray had given up. How many times in the history of the NFL have you seen a running back slide when trying to convert a 3rd and 1?
The clip is now infamous, and even though Murray was awarded the first down, by the letter of the rule book he should have been marked short. The change of scenery was a necessity. The guy sliding above is not the same one Murray himself described at his introductory press conference:
“You want to physically impose your will on the other team. Want to finish runs.”
If that was Murray’s only issue in Philadelphia, I could get on board with the trade. But the more I watch his runs, and the more I dig into the data, the more concerns I have with him ever getting back to his 2014 form. One of Murray’s signature attributes in Dallas was his ability to bounce inside runs to the edge, hit a stiff arm, and turn poorly blocked runs into big gains. In Philadelphia, that ability was non-existent. Below are his stats on runs that ended up wide of the tight ends (or equivalent if none) the past two seasons:
Those numbers look like two completely different players. Now some of that was schematic (which we’ll get to later), but much of it was due to his declining burst as a runner. Murray simply couldn’t get the edge against defensive ends and linebackers as much as he did in Dallas. Below you can see Murray getting caught from behind by a linebacker. That’s not a good sign for a 217-pound, non-power back.
The lingering hamstring issue obviously didn’t help, however with his age (28) and injury history (averaging 589 snaps a season for his career) it’s not crazy to think that the juice may never come back.
If there is one silver lining for the Titans, its Murray’s production from shotgun compared to his production with the quarterback under center.
The sample size is obviously not ideal, but I believe it speaks to a larger issue schematically that we saw in Philadelphia. Even though almost every team in the NFL will run inside/outside zone, the execution for each are different. Philadelphia coaches their zone runs to go as laterally as any team in the league and they run them almost exclusively from the gun causing flatter angles at the mesh point. As we can see Murray’s shoulders were aiming far more east and west than north and south on handoffs in Philadelphia compared to Dallas, where 94 percent of his carries came from under center.
The theory here is that it extends the contain players and in turn widens the interior gaps. But for Murray it was essentially taking away his biggest strength, because he couldn’t suck in those same contain players to catch them out of position, because he was already tipping his hand. As you see, the results in Philly were dreadful:
|Yards Before Contact
The good news for Tennessee in relation to Murray is that coach Mike Mularkey already said they’ll be under center more than they are in the shotgun in 2016. Unfortunately, this change takes away most of Marcus Mariota’s threat as a runner and takes him out of his comfort zone as a passer. Scheming to fit your running back’s talents instead of your quarterback’s seems like an outdated methodology.
The bottom line is that the Titans traded backwards in the fourth round to pay a 28-year old running back with an extensive injury history, who is coming off the worst season of his career, at least $12 million over the next two seasons. Those numbers are almost the same as backs like Lamar Miller, Chris Ivory, and Doug Martin got this past offseason. All of this for the chance that Murray can recapture one season where he ran well behind our highest-graded offensive line. The risk here doesn’t seem close to the reward.