October 05, 2015
Continuing on with our "quarter pole" grades, we'll turn to the running backs. In case you missed the first installment of this series, we graded out Sam Bradford this morning.
Here are DeMarco Murray's numbers through four games this season with the Eagles, compared with where he was at four games into the 2014 season:
Obviously, he had better blocking in Dallas last year... No wait, let me rephrase that.
Obviously, he had blocking in Dallas last year. There. That's better.
When Murray has had some room to run, he has shown glimpses of what he was a year ago. He had a 30 yard run against the Redskins that was reminiscent of 2014, and a 17 yarder against the Falcons that was called back because of a holding penalty. Otherwise, his rushing attempts have looked a lot like when the computer "picks the right play" against you in Tecmo Bowl:
The Eagles traded LeSean McCoy to the Bills for Kiko Alonso, and then signed Murray and Ryan Mathews, a pair of "downhill, north-south" runners to replace him. I'm not sure McCoy would be faring much better here with the way the Eagles' offensive line has run blocked, but certainly, the money the Eagles paid to their trio of running backs has not been an investment that has paid off so far.
Here's a look at what the Eagles are paying their running backs this year, via overthecap.com. They're third in the NFL:
In 2016, they'll be paying this trio over $17 million, which is currently by far and away the highest in the NFL:
Not to be a master of the obvious here, but Murray isn't going to be productive if the Eagles don't give him the football. Conversely, they can't just keep giving him the football if the offensive line is going to be a human turnstile.
It's just a really bad situation.
Mathews is the Eagles' leading rusher, with 132 yards. That's 37th in the NFL. Like Murray, Mathews hasn't gotten many carries. On the season, he has just 33 of them, or an average of just over eight per game. Mathews was the "beneficiary" of better blocking against the Jets Week 3, which was where 108 of his 133 yards came from, although I wouldn't exactly say the Eagles' run blocking in that game was stellar.
While he has run hard, Mathews has had some crippling mistakes. He had an egregious drop against the Falcons Week 1 that would have gone for good yardage, and he dropped an imperfect but catchable pass against the Jets that might have gone for a touchdown. He has also lost two fumbles this season, one of which was at a time in the game against the Jets where the #1 thing he had to accomplish was securing the football.
Some have viewed Mathews as a bright spot this season. I have not. While he has provided a spark at times on what has been a dreadful offense, the egregious mistakes would be amplified in a "normal," productive offense.
Like Mathews, while Sproles has provided a spark at times, he has had some bad moments at key times during games. He had a drop that would have been a TD against the Jets, and was unable to bring in a pass he got both hands on in a huge third down situation against the Redskins (although to be fair, it was a poor throw from Sam Bradford). Sproles the return specialist has been great. Sproles the offensive weapon has been somewhat overrated thus far.
Overall running back grade: C-
To note, the running backs are tough to grade. Are we grading them on expectations? If so, this was a group that was regarded as the best RB trio in the NFL. Maybe a D or an F is in order. Is it fair to give them an incomplete, because the Eagles haven't really tried to run the ball due to a completely ineffective run-blocking offensive line? Or maybe you see positives that I don't. You decide...
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