One of the most prevalent narratives about this Eagles team is that Chip Kelly wants runners who go north/south (end zone to end zone), not east/west (sideline to sideline). That’s why he traded Shady and picked up DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews, as he said himself. So why hasn’t Murray been doing well?
On Monday Night Football, Jon Gruden blamed it on Murray running east/west, by which he meant that the Eagles were running to the outside, with sweeps and outside zone plays. That’s a misunderstanding of what Chip means by north/south, which is hitting the hole and running through contact, instead of dancing sideways to avoid defenders.
Chip didn’t mean that it’s bad to for the running back to execute the called outside run, or that he himself shouldn’t be calling them — they’re a very big part of his offense. Chip loves misdirection, and outside runs are critical to get the defense flowing one way so you can run a counter the other way, whether it’s a bootleg, a bubble screen to the other side, or a slot screen like the one that Josh Huff gained 15 yards on in the first quarter.
(That clip in that link is from Fran Duffy’s excellent breakdown of Chip’s latest tweaks to the running game.)
Gruden’s comments made no sense [Editor’s note: I think his comments about running from the shotgun did, however. Generally speaking, at least.] LeSean McCoy jitterbugged sideways even on inside zone runs up the middle last year. Sometimes he evaded defenders and picked up a big gain, but often he was tackled for a loss as a result. On the other hand, one of DeMarco Murray’s staple plays for the Cowboys last year was the outside zone stretch play, where he ran horizontal to the line of scrimmage until a hole opened up, then cut back.
But once he found a hole, he pounded it decisively, breaking arm tackles and picking up a lot of yards after contact. ProFootballFocus tabulates yards after contact (YCo), which is a good measure of N/S running. Murray led the NFL in runs with three or more yards after contact (137), and Ryan Mathews was even better on a percentage basis (35%, ahead of Le’Veon Bell). Shady, on the other hand, was one of the worst in the league.
There have been a lot of reasons for Murray’s disappointing results so far. The offensive line has been bad, obviously, and Chip’s play calling was getting predictable (they always ran to the opposite side of where the RB lines up) until the last two games. Murray’s hamstring injury was probably a factor too, as he looked distinctly slow compared to Mathews and Sproles, who ran much better with the same line and play calls.
But several of Murray’s big runs against the Giants went around the end. Here’s a clip of his touchdown. Does it look like running toward the sideline is DeMarco’s problem?