It took 13 weeks, but Chip Kelly finally did it. He benched DeMarco Murray.
The Philadelphia Eagles have been a complete question mark this season. Nobody, Kelly included, ever has any idea which team will show up – the one that got smacked 45-14 by the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving, or the one that upset the previously dominant New England Patriots, 35-28, last week.
One of the reasons for this inconsistency has been Murray, the team’s prized offseason acquisition. After leading the league in rushing with the Dallas Cowboys in 2014, Murray signed a five- year, $40 million deal with Philly.
This year, Murray ranks 23rd in rushing yards with just five total touchdowns. Kelly has insisted on using him as an east-west runner when he is really an elite north-south talent. Against New England, he stopped using Murray altogether.
Darren Sproles and Kenjon Barner (who?) out-touched one of the most expensive players on the roster. For Murray, the most frustrating part of it all was likely that the team won against an elite opponent…without him.
On Tuesday, ESPN’s Ed Werder reported that Murray went to owner Jeff Lurie to complain about his role in the offense. What a “Mommy! He pinched me!” move.
Kelly has this Wizard of Oz mystique about him. He’s the guy behind the curtain, and there always seems to be some sort of method to the madness. Here, the decision required no yellow brick road – Murray has consistently played poorly, so off to the bench he goes.
Beating New England gave the Eagles new life in the snail race that is the NFC East. The team is now tied with the New York Giants and Washington Redskins at 5-8. Sure, it’s not the most impressive feat in the world, but someone has to win. Why not Philly?
According to FiveThirtyEight. com, the Eagles are heavy favorites to win the division crown. The analytics site gives the Birds a 43 percent chance to run away with it.
Philadelphia plays both Washington and New York down the stretch, allowing the team to control its own destiny. Big Blue is next closest at 28 percent.
How can Kelly play Murray with such a legitimate chance to win?
Ryan Mathews has outplayed the $40 million man all year. He’s a one-cut type of a runner—a quick step, and boom he’s gone. While Mathews will slice defenders up, Murray will try to barrel them down.
In Kelly’s shotgun-based offense, Mathews is the better fit. On Wednesday, the head coach said that Mathews is the “most explosive runner we have, [he has] that extra gear others don’t,” per Martin Frank of the Delaware News Journal.
After missing the past three games with a concussion, the former San Diego Charger is on pace to return to the lineup in a huge game against the Buffalo Bills this week.
Expect Mathews to get the lion’s share of touches. And for Murray to continue watching from the sidelines.
It’s not easy to swallow a huge contract and sit the guy you paid like a star. But Kelly, typically a nonconformist, bit the bullet.
His team is better off in the long run because of it.
Tom Duffy is a journalism major from Woodbridge, N.J. He can be reached at thomas.duffy@student. shu.edu or on Twitter @TJDhoops.