Daily Focus: Why DeMarco Murray could bounce back with Titans

How Tennessee's running game fits its new back, plus the NFL's offensive line problem and Philadelphia's star long-snapper.

| 4 months ago
(AP Photo/Michael Perez)

(AP Photo/Michael Perez)

Daily Focus: Why DeMarco Murray could bounce back with Titans

Editor’s note: Every day in “Daily Focus,” PFF analysts take the latest NFL news and translate what it really means for each team involved.

Why DeMarco Murray could have a bounce-back year for the Titans: It seems as if Murray simply wasn’t a good match for the Eagles, who traded him to Tennessee this offseason after just one season with the team. Murray appeared to dislike running so many outside-zone plays, which caused him to run side to side before he could find a crease and cut up field. On Wednesday he said that he was excited by how his skill set matched the Tennessee running game.

In 2015 the Eagles were the most zone-heavy team in football, running some variety of zone concept on 95 percent of their runs. Tennessee was just 15th-highest, with only 62 percent of their runs involving zone.

While the Eagles barely ever dabbled in man-blocking gap concepts — just 4 percent of their run plays — the Titans ran that on almost a third of their running plays at 29 percent. Tennessee ran a far more balanced rushing offense with a near equal split of inside zone, outside zone and gap concepts.

The issue, however, isn’t the volume of outside zone the Eagles ran, but rather how they were running their zone plays. The Eagles actually ran far more inside zone than outside (59 to 36 percent) in 2015, but they ran it from the shotgun, forcing Murray to receive the hand-off running laterally and exposing him to the inevitable penetration that was routinely destroying the play.

In Dallas in 2014 he was taking the ball from the shotgun just 12.4 percent of the time, but that number was 86.0 percent in 2015 with the Eagles. When he took the ball from under center with the Eagles his average was still 4.5 yards per attempt, or just a hair below the 4.8 it was with the Cowboys the year before. (Check out the chart below.)


Only 21.4 percent of Tennessee’s runs came from the shotgun in 2015, and if that is at a similar rate this season, that increased Murray’s chances to bounce back with a big year. His 2014 season was not simply a product of an excellent Dallas offensive line, but a perfect schematic match for his skills. His marriage with the Eagles was an ill-fated one, but the Titans should be a far better fit.

Eagles long-snapper is one of NFL’s best: Philadelphia Eagles long snapper Jon Dorenbos took to “America’s Got Talent” to show off his magic tricks, a talent which has seen him tour the country in his spare time.

By all accounts he impressed the judges with his magic skills, but what kind of long snapper is he?

Too often we only think of long snappers as either perfect or the guy airmailing a snap over the punter’s head, but PFF measures the accuracy in the gray areas between perfect and catastrophic, downgrading a long snapper for inaccurate snaps that force a significant adjustment from the punter or holder.

Dorenbos had 162 long snaps last season and 16 of them were inaccurate in some way. Four of his wayward snaps were high, the biggest repeat area of inaccuracy for him, and his overall accuracy of 90.12 percent was 33rd in the NFL, more than 5 percent lower than the league average accurate rate of 95.28 percent.

The year before, however, Dorenbos was a PFF All-Pro, and the most accurate long snapper in the game. He was off on just four snaps and had the league’s best accuracy percentage of 97.6 percent.

So in two seasons of grading long snappers, Dorenbos is a good example of how inconsistent the position can be, and why for their own good it might be best that most people don’t notice long snappers until something goes catastrophically wrong.

What is the reason behind the NFL’s poor offensive line play? It is not a good time for O-line play in the NFL. Often that gets blamed on the increase of college spread offenses, which supposedly leave linemen ill-prepared for NFL life once they hit the pros, but Howard Mudd, a longtime NFL offensive line coach, blames the league’s CBA and lack of practice time for it, instead.

But how bad is the problem overall? In the 2015 season, San Francisco’s Erik Pears led all tackles with 10 sacks surrendered in 14 games at RT. He was also flagged 11 times and surrendered a total of 45 pressures. In 2007, Detroit’s Jeff Backus led the league at tackle with 17 sacks surrendered, and three players were in double-digits.

Looking back at the entirety of PFF data though much has changed in the league, the performance of linemen seems to ebb and flow, with no discernible trends to be found.

Many of today’s offenses are, in theory, easier on linemen in pass protection than they were a decade ago, with QBs holding the ball less and getting it out quicker – the NFL has become more of a spread landscape than it was years ago, but on the flipside they are pass-blocking for more snaps.

In 2007, Backus pass-blocked for 630 snaps to give up those 17 sacks, the third-highest figure in the league. Jon Stinchcomb, then with the Saints, led the league with 675 pass-blocking snaps. In 2015 five players were higher than that and four of them topped 700 pass-blocking snaps. Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz for the Browns led the league with 705 pass-blocking snaps in 2015, and combined they allowed just five sacks (so line play is not universally poor).

The NFL changes and evolves, and players and coaches need to do likewise. It may be harder than ever to take bad players and coach them into good players because of the restrictions within the CBA and the hands-on coaching time allowed, so maybe all that’s needed is a change in tack. Instead of focusing on athletic talents with major technique flaws, maybe the league needs to look at more fundamentally sound players who are physically limited.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • Jason Williams

    I don’t care one way or the other about DeMarco Murray as a player but as a person I find him really gross. He had one good year and I have yet to hear one good humble quote out of the guy. Just seems like a jerk.

    • crosseyedlemon

      The Titan’s NFL footprint is small so Murray can probably rant in Tennessee to his hearts content without most people even noticing.

    • SamNash

      to be honest he doesn’t really say that much at all.

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  • crosseyedlemon

    If you want better offensive line play you need the guys with those solid fundamentals. Attitude and smarts can often overcome the physical limitations.

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