Whatever the Eagles’ plan, it’s not working. They’re 1-3 now, smack dab in last place in a weak NFC East after a backbreaking 23-20 loss at Washington. And all along, Chip Kelly has shunted the blame to his players: it’s about “executing,” he’s said since the beginning, not his system. RB DeMarco Murray, brought in for big money to replicate his high-use 2014, disagrees. It’s not that the players aren’t executing the gameplan. “It’s how the plays are being called.”
Murray is frustrated. (As is everybody else on this offense that was supposed to blow away its competition, but just can’t seem to get going for more than a few minutes at a time.) It wasn’t supposed to be like this—not after the kind of 2014 he had. With the Cowboys last year, Murray was the focal part of a formidable offense: he received a league-leading 28.1 touches per game, including 24.5 handoffs. Through three games with the sputtering Eagles, he’s gotten just 29 carries and 40 touches overall.
That’s clearly not enough to keep him happy, not when those lost touches aren’t accomplishing much in other hands.
“We ran it well. We blocked it well. The receivers blocked it well downfield,” he said of the big play, eyes forward; then, adjusting his tie again, Murray glanced sideways and growled: “We could have stuck with it a little bit more.”
Asked to clarify if that was a complaint that general manager/head coach/playcaller Chip Kelly should use him more, Murray, who ran just eight times for a total of 36 yards, made things crystal clear:
“Do I think I’m touching the ball enough? No, I’m not. I don’t think I am. It’s how the plays are being called . . .
“I knew what I was coming in here to do. I knew that I was going to be the guy.”
These Eagles are not those Cowboys, though. Dallas had an offensive line so good it made people question how much of Murray’s value he owed to his blocking—and made the Cowboys balk at the money he demanded to return. These Eagles, on the other hand, valued the skill positions over the line; among Chip Kelly’s many moves was to let guards Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis walk, and assume he could replace them from within. That line hasn’t performed, and it’s affecting everyone.
Sam Bradford’s not getting time in the pocket, so the deep balls have been far and few between. (“You guys act like we don’t want to throw the ball down the field,” Bradford said yesterday.) Opponents have quickly learned that they don’t have to sell out to stop the pass and have been able to shut down the run without much fuss. When Murray (or Ryan Mathews or Darren Sproles, neither of whom has been able to do much) does get the ball, the gaps aren’t opening for him. And opposing defenses stay fresh, because the offense can’t stay on the field. The Eagles’ flaws offensive flaws are all interconnected, each reinforcing the others, but it all starts and ends with controlling the line of scrimmage. Simply calling more handoffs for Murray, who if you take away his 30-yard dash yesterday has 17 yards on 28 carries, isn’t a panacea.
The good news for the Eagles is, a slow start in this division isn’t a killer: for all the early-season mess, Philly is just one game back of everyone else. The bad news is it might already be too late. If the Eagles’ problems are as fundamental as their personnel, neither different play-calling nor better execution are going to do it. And if it was those offseason moves that damned a talented offense to mediocrity, well, the world already knows who to blame: