The hiring of Doug Pederson has already breathed some much-needed life into a franchise looking to rebound from a disappointing 7-9 season in 2014. With a major overhaul of the coaching structure, from Pederson, to his offensive and defensive coordinators, to many of the team’s position coaches, many players who struggled with the Eagles last season will be given an opportunity to find more fitting roles in a new scheme. Perhaps the player most in need of a fresh start in Philadelphia is running back
When Murray was acquired by Philadelphia, many expected the 27-year-old running back to thrive in head coach Chip Kelly’s dynamic offense. After all, Murray had led the NFL in rushing yards (1,845) and rushing touchdowns (13) as a member of the Dallas Cowboys the season prior, and the Eagles had ranked top five in both yards and touchdowns on the ground in each of Kelly’s first two seasons at the helm of the team. But instead, Murray rushed for just 702 yards on 193 rushes (3.6 yards per carry) in 2015.
The transition from playing in the more traditional offense run by the Cowboys to the faster-paced, shotgun-heavy scheme Kelly ran with the Eagles was a difficult one for Murray. One hundred and sixty-six of his 193 carries (86.0 percent) last season came while the offense was in shotgun. On those plays, Murray averaged just 3.5 yards per carry. But when he had the opportunity to run the ball on plays with the quarterback lined up under center, he averaged 4.3 yards per carry on 27 rushes. Two of his six touchdowns came on such runs, despite those plays accounting for just 14 percent of his total carries.
“Obviously, that’s what I’ve done, and that’s where I’ve had the most success,” Murray said earlier this month of playing with the quarterback under center. “I think everyone has a feel for what they like to do, and that’s one of the things I like to do.”
But despite the frustration of a 2015 season that was disappointing both from an individual and a team standpoint, Murray kept his nose to the grindstone. He worked hard to become an effective contributor in Kelly’s system, but despite some occasional flashes things never quite clicked.
With Pederson on board, the rookie head coach is excited by the prospect of finding ways to maximize Murray’s immense talent. As offensive coordinator of the Chiefs for the past three seasons, Kansas City ranked top 10 in rushing yards and top five in rushing touchdowns during every year of his tenure. This past season, the Chiefs ranked third in rushing yards per attempt (4.7) and first in rushing touchdowns (19).
His accomplishments in 2015 were made more impressive by the fact that the team’s leading rusher, four-time Pro Bowl selection Jamaal Charles, was knocked out for the year with a torn ACL in Week 5. In his absence, the Chiefs relied heavily upon two largely unproven young backs, Charcandrick West (634 yards) and Spencer Ware (403 yards). It’s easy to dream about the kind of success, then, that Pederson could have with Murray,
“I think DeMarco Murray fits well into what I can bring,” Pederson told reporters during his introductory press conference. “I think there's a unique style there with him. When you go back and look at his tape in Dallas, I think there are some great opportunities with him, more of a downhill-type guy, physical running back.”
Last season, the Chiefs fell just about in the middle of the pack in terms of rushing out of formations with the quarterback under center, doing so on 17.4 percent of their offensive plays (17th in the NFL). Pederson has yet to commit publicly to a particular scheme, stating that the team’s style of play will be malleable in order to match the strengths of his new players.
Murray has shown that in the right system he can be dominant. Now it’s up to Pederson to figure out how to put the former NFL Offensive Player of the Year in a position to be great once again.