Will Demarco Murray Succeed In Philly?
Anybody can run well in Dallas.
Demarco Murray was the latest product of the running back machine that is the Cowboys, who have an offensive line so powerful they are commonly accepted to be the best position group in the NFL. We're talking about four first-round picks, all young and still ahead of their prime playing years, all together on the same team. Behind this mass of human blockage, any RB in the league could look good (even Trent Richardson).
There's no question that Murray, a graduate out of Oklahoma originally drafted by the Cowboys in 2011, has some serious running chops. His college stats show how dominant he was even before going to Dallas. Murray tied Adrian Peterson's freshman record for rushing touchdowns with 15, and set the all-time Oklahoma records for touchdowns (65), all purpose yards (6,718), receiving yards for a running back (1,571), and kickoff return average (27.6). Murray is impressive in raw statistics too, with a 40-yard dash time of 4.40 seconds and broad jump of 10 ft 4 in. There's no question about it, he's a real athlete, and he'll be a good running back no matter where he goes.
That's not the point, though.
The question is whether Murray can stand out on his own, given the opportunity to prove himself without the aid of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and La'el Collins, Dallas' big front men. Chip Kelly's offense is entirely different from that of Scott Linehan, and in many ways it will play to Murray's strengths. Fast-paced, with an emphasis on speed and intelligence, Kelly is hoping that Demarco will be able to slide right into his plans for a Philadelphia championship team in the coming years. The spread offense style in particular will be helpful to the speedy Murray, and it will give him plenty of room to work with. In previous years we saw how this worked for LeSean McCoy, who dominated whenever he got a few yards in front of him to work with. For sure, everybody in Philly is excited to see what Murray will be able to do, and how quickly he'll be able to adapt to the new style of offense.
Not everything will be sunshine and rainbows during the transition, though. Anyone who paid attention to the Eagles last year will remember their offensive linemen injury woes. They didn't play a single game in 2014 with all of their starters on the line, and often had to play with only three of their best guys. Just let that statistic sink in for a moment. 0 for 16. Lane Johnson started the issues with a four game suspension, and as soon as he got back star center Jason Kelce and left guard Evan Mathis fell to injuries (sports hernia and a knee injury, respectively). To make matters worse, Todd Herremans fell to a bicep injury at the end of the season, and played some pretty ugly games while suffering through the pain.
In total, they tried out seven different starting rotations, pulling on a total of 10 players to fill the five spots on the line. LeSean McCoy suffered at the hands of this inconsistency, running for 288 yards less than he had the previous year. They allowed 49.0 sacks to their opponents, way beyond of their goal of 22 set at the beginning of the season (this would've been the Eagles franchise record).
Demarco won't have to do it alone, at least. In the backfield with Murray will be Ryan Mathews, an acquisition from the Chargers, and Darren Sproles, the Eagles powerhouse specialist who lit the special teams game on fire with his dynamic punt returns. The combination of these men, now dubbed the "Legion of Zoom", poses possibly the biggest threat of any backfield in the NFL, and with Bradford coming in off of an injury plagued stretch in his career, Chip Kelly will most certainly lean on these three men to put the offense on their backs. The majority of the offense's production will most likely come from the run game. Not to be doubtful of Bradford or the wide receivers, but the talent has been diminished for sure since the departure of Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson.
So what does this all mean?
Demarco Murray's success will hinge on a few factors, including the health of the offensive line and the success of Bradford as a long ball threat, but for the most part, it looks as though he has another big season in his future. There's a perfect storm in Philly that's been brewing ever since Papa Chip took over the squad, and I think this year could be the beginning of a major breakout. Murray will have another great offensive line to run behind, and although they don't quite rival the squad in Dallas, they are a force to be reckoned with. If Bradford can be a good enough player to alleviate some of the pressure on the run game and keep teams honest, then Murray will have the perfect opportunity to chase down McCoy's single season rushing record (1,607 yards). Mathews and Sproles will provide him with the critical relief he may need, and they will play an integral role as well in the success of the Eagles franchise.
Legion of Zoom, ready to take off.