Don’t count on a DeMarco Murray revival in Tennessee

There are plenty of signs that the Titans new RB won't be able to recapture the form he had in 2014 with the Cowboys.

| 7 months ago
(Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

(Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Don’t count on a DeMarco Murray revival in Tennessee

I don’t know that I’ve ever before seen the odd mixture of joy and confusion displayed by Eagles fans reacting to the news that running back DeMarco Murray was dealt to the Titans. No one could believe someone actually wanted him, and no one could believe they actually received something in return (a move up from pick 113 to 100 in the fourth round).

So how did the NFL’s leading rusher and offensive player of the year from 2014 become public enemy No. 1 for Eagles fans in the span of less than a year? Put bluntly, Murray had given up. How many times in the history of the NFL have you seen a running back slide when trying to convert a 3rd and 1?


The clip is now infamous, and even though Murray was awarded the first down, by the letter of the rule book he should have been marked short. The change of scenery was a necessity. The guy sliding above is not the same one Murray himself described at his introductory press conference:

“You want to physically impose your will on the other team. Want to finish runs.”

If that was Murray’s only issue in Philadelphia, I could get on board with the trade. But the more I watch his runs, and the more I dig into the data, the more concerns I have with him ever getting back to his 2014 form. One of Murray’s signature attributes in Dallas was his ability to bounce inside runs to the edge, hit a stiff arm, and turn poorly blocked runs into big gains. In Philadelphia, that ability was non-existent. Below are his stats on runs that ended up wide of the tight ends (or equivalent if none) the past two seasons:

Team Attempts Yards YPC YAC/Attempt MT/Attempt
2014 Cowboys 107 619 5.8 3.3 0.26
2015 Eagles 73 241 3.3 1.9 0.16

Those numbers look like two completely different players. Now some of that was schematic (which we’ll get to later), but much of it was due to his declining burst as a runner. Murray simply couldn’t get the edge against defensive ends and linebackers as much as he did in Dallas. Below you can see Murray getting caught from behind by a linebacker. That’s not a good sign for a 217-pound, non-power back.


The lingering hamstring issue obviously didn’t help, however with his age (28) and injury history (averaging 589 snaps a season for his career) it’s not crazy to think that the juice may never come back.

If there is one silver lining for the Titans, its Murray’s production from shotgun compared to his production with the quarterback under center.

QB Alignment YPC YAC MT/Carry Carries
Under Center 5.1 2.0 0.18 28
Shotgun 3.4 2.0 0.12 170

The sample size is obviously not ideal, but I believe it speaks to a larger issue schematically that we saw in Philadelphia. Even though almost every team in the NFL will run inside/outside zone, the execution for each are different. Philadelphia coaches their zone runs to go as laterally as any team in the league and they run them almost exclusively from the gun causing flatter angles at the mesh point. As we can see Murray’s shoulders were aiming far more east and west than north and south on handoffs in Philadelphia compared to Dallas, where 94 percent of his carries came from under center.



The theory here is that it extends the contain players and in turn widens the interior gaps. But for Murray it was essentially taking away his biggest strength, because he couldn’t suck in those same contain players to catch them out of position, because he was already tipping his hand. As you see, the results in Philly were dreadful:

Run Type YPC Yards Before Contact YAC Attempts
Inside Zone 4.0 2.1 2.0 124
Outside Zone 2.3 1.9 0.4 32

The good news for Tennessee in relation to Murray is that coach Mike Mularkey already said they’ll be under center more than they are in the shotgun in 2016. Unfortunately, this change takes away most of Marcus Mariota’s threat as a runner and takes him out of his comfort zone as a passer. Scheming to fit your running back’s talents instead of your quarterback’s seems like an outdated methodology.

The bottom line is that the Titans traded backwards in the fourth round to pay a 28-year old running back with an extensive injury history, who is coming off the worst season of his career, at least $12 million over the next two seasons. Those numbers are almost the same as backs like Lamar Miller, Chris Ivory, and Doug Martin got this past offseason. All of this for the chance that Murray can recapture one season where he ran well behind our highest-graded offensive line. The risk here doesn’t seem close to the reward.

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • Jeff

    I disagree with almost this entire article. The main point is, the risk for the Titans is almost none. They moved a few spots in the 4th round for a running back who is one year removed from being the best back in the NFL. The money argument means almost nothing to the Titans as they still have over $30M in cap space and paying a back who is head and shoulders better than anyone they have on their roster currently is fine with me.

    • Gary

      Agree 100%

    • James Thompson

      Yeah, we (Titans) can’t go wrong with this pick considering our top rusher only had a little over 500 yards. Murray can at least get a 1000

      • Moralltach

        What makes you think that a guy who went from 1800 yards to 700, with only one fewer start, is guaranteed 1000 yards this year behind the 22nd-ranked run-blocking line?

        • Jeff

          The number of starts is irrelevant. He had 199 less carries. If he would have had the same amount of carries he would have had just over 1,400 yards. It was also not a system built at all for his running style.

          • Moralltach

            That’s true, but there’s no guarantee that Tennessee will be a fit either. Besides, Tennessee ran the ball 70 fewer times than Philadelphia, so it’s hard to say what his opportunity level will be.

          • Jeff

            I agree that there is no guarantee Murray will be great with the Titans. My point was that the risk the Titans are taking on him is very small.

          • James Thompson

            Tennessee probably through the ball a lot less than Philly and other times as well. Our offense couldn’t stay on the field long. You can fact check, but our defense is definitely top five in time on the field

          • eYeDEF

            Except averaging 3.6 Y/A doesn’t warrant getting 199 more carries. That’s what you got out of Antonio Andrews last year and he had 50 less carries … for good reason. Because he sucks and his Y/A didn’t warrant more carries.

        • James Thompson

          Because he won’t be splitting carries with three backs like he did in Philly with Sproles and Ryan Mathews. More touches means more yards

          • bushisamoron

            He was the worst running back on the Eagles last year, including Barner. While the Eagles OL struggled FOR SURE, the other backs all had significantly better average gains per run. The reason Murray was splitting carries was because he was paid so much. Had he been making less, he would have gotten far fewer touches.

          • James Thompson

            He just didn’t fit in that system. Philly ran a lot of gun. He’s better when he’s running with the qb under center. It’s all about schemes. Point is, barring injury he’ll have more than 500 yards and that’s an improvement over anything we have on our roster. Very smart trade by the Titans with all of the cap room they have. Nothing to lose really. If he doesn’t pan out, just bench him or cut him next year

    • James Thompson

      Yeah, we (Titans) can’t go wrong with this pick considering our top rusher only had a little over 500 yards. Murray can at least get a 1000

  • MD_in_MD

    I never really thought much of Murray before his “breakout” year of 2014, which was obviously due to having the best o-line in the NFL. Even worthless Darren McFadden hit 1,000 yards as their RB with that line. What does THAT tell you? The Titans will regret this move and by this time next year will be shopping Murray for anything they can get……or waive him…

    • Johnny

      You don’t know much about football, or don’t watch the games huh? Murray’s been a good back since Cowboys drafted him, but injuries kept him on the sidelines alot. He was good before this line. McFadden was super talented, if only we could’ve gotten him when he came out of college. Tell me how McFadden had a great season??? 4-12 means he impacted the game…zero. When you run for 1000 yards and lose that many games mean you failed. Emmitt has single handedly won games for the boys, just like Murray did. Time to draft zeke…pretty arrogant thinking this oline is going to somehow make backs hall of famers.

      • eYeDEF

        And that’s just it. To be a good back requires being able to stay on the field and not miss significant time from injuries. Murray had two good years, but 2014 was the only year he was able to maintain his health and play a complete season. No one ever said McFadden had a great season. But he did average 4.6 Y/A and netted 1k+ yards after being a sub 3.5 Y/A runner the three previous seasons and it’d be hard to make a case that the reason was for anything other than far superior run blocking from his line in Dallas. The reason Dallas went 4-12 is because your starting QB got injured. Trying to put that on McFadden when he did his part running for 4.6 Y/A is absurd. In 2013 Murray had a pro bowl year but that didn’t prevent Dallas from going 8-8. Using your logic, Murray failed too in his 2nd best year.

    • Backinmd

      Feel the same way .. Thought Murray was slightly above average with a great, dominate OL in Dallas .. Eagles : should have changed their run plays to adjust to Murray — poor coaching to me … Good, great NFL coached adjust to their players, not the other way around ..370 carries – so what .. They were paying this guy big $ bucks for these carries ..You could say the same thing about Earl Campbell in Houston years ago …In Philly , Murrays legs looked OK to me but it was wrong offensive play calling and to me, Murray WAS playing not to get hurt and it seems like he lost some of his heart … He never finished off any of his runs – Remember the year before last was the 1st year ( out of 3 ) that he wasn’t hurt and had a great year with a great OL ..Think he had a full tank when he arrived with the Eagles …Sure he’s going to get the big $ in Tenn. but don’t think he will do much …Think he’ll never get out of 2nd gear and not do much with the Titans and play not to get hurt as he did in Philly ..Don’t wish the guy any bad luck but don’t think he’ll ever have the year he had in Dallas … Ok , if he was so great in Dallas why did they let him leave, or match the Titans offer ..

  • crosseyedlemon

    That first video shows Murray making a great stiff arm move to avoid a 5 yard loss and you fault him for the slide Mike? As far as I can tell that slide was as good as any that the Phillies players are capable of.

    • eYeDEF

      He was faulting him, just as the philly fan base did, for not fighting for the first down. If the ref had called it as the video clearly showed, he would not have been awarded the 1st down.

      • Backinmd

        QB slide in the NFL , RB hit the defensive player head on if they can’t run around him .. Usually they gain a couple of extra yards …First time I’ve ever seen a running back slide …

    • Backinmd

      A la Franco Harris – likes to run out of bounds to keep from getting hurt .. Slide was a substitute for running out of bounds to keep from getting hit ….Soft ..

      • eYeDEF

        Shaun Alexander too. But those guys had forged successful styles of running towards daylight and out of bounds to preserve their health as the blueprints for their careers. For a back like Murray who cut his teeth on breaking tackles, his sudden shift in tactics made him look all the more like he’d gone charmin soft.

        • Backinmd

          Was going to mention Shaun Alexander also but forgot his name ..Shaun would always slow down a bit before he hit the CB , S, or say LB ..Got worse after Seattle’s Superbowl even though it looked like he still had his legs and speed ..Had a tryout with the Redskins a few years back but they cut him ..Ron Dayne- Wisconsin- was the same way out of College –1st round draft choice , #11 ..When he hit the pros, he turned charmin soft fast …Kinda sad when you see these great RB out of college turn soft real fast when they turn Pro ..

          • eYeDEF

            Actually Alexander was never the same player again after his SB/rushing title year. He broke his foot halfway through the following season and after that it was one injury after another until the Seahawks let him go and he went to the Redskins and like you said, they cut him after a few games. Ron Dayne was always pretty terrible in the pros. I was surprised to see him sign with any team after his rookie contract with the Giants. I was surprised the Giants even kept him around for 4 years, but I guess he worked to complement Tiki Barber’s game. They called him ‘Thunder’ but he was anything but, unless you want to call his sub 4 yards a carry ‘Thunder’.

          • Backinmd

            Didn’t know Alexander broke his foot , but he always slowed down , cowered before he got hit ..Broken foot is not a career ending injury for RB and WR .. Art Monk broke his foot and didn’t play SB 17 vs Miami and played well the next few years before Skins traded him to the Jets … Ron Dayne had so much ability coming into the pro’s ..The way he played the first few years in the Pro’s , Don Shula, Joe Gibbs would have dumped him the 1st year ; was always surprised the Giants kept him long as they did .. Not saying he would have been the next Csonka or Riggins with more effort on his part ..Had Redskins season tckt. @ RFK and saw Dayne play three four times in person … Tiki was a great back until he opened his @$ @@ mouth …

  • AJ

    DeMarco Murray is the latest example of the 370 threshold. Other than Eric Dickerson, every RB in history is either injured or significantly less effective the season after 370 carries. Just by virtue of that alone, I knew back when PHI signed him that they would be disappointed and that Dallas made the right move. The length of the offseason is not long enough to give a RB enough rest from that huge of a workload, so the effects carry over to the next season.

    • Jeff

      Well then he should be plenty rested after last season to run all over the AFC South!

      • eYeDEF

        Except that threshold applies to running backs for the rest of their careers, not just one season. Jerry Jones ran Murray into the ground in ’14, and the article above makes the point very clear in the included gifs that reveal him getting tackled from behind by a linebacker. The only time running backs come back from the kind of decline Marco has last year are when they’re coming back from injury. Not from 400+ carry seasons.

        • Andrew

          What about AP?

          • eYeDEF

            What about him? His highest regular season rushing attempt total is 363.

    • Backinmd

      Been saying for years that 14 games in an NFL season is enough. Your defense’s leg’s start to give out 10th, 11th game ..Same for running backs ..Now if you have some good substitutes on the bench it’s not as bad ..Saw plenty of Eagles games and to me D. Murray looked OK to me .. Thought most of the decline was the Eagles offensive play calling, especially running plays with Murray .. Remember, Murray was injured his 1st two years so his third year with the Cowboys was kinda his 1st year when he gained all the yards, plus he had the best line in the NFL in front of him ..RB’s shelve life has declined a lot the past 2 decades .. To me Murray’s decline was he didn’t have the great OL , play calling and he was playing soft — not to get hurt ..If he was so great, why did the Cowboys trade him ? ? .. Don’t think Murray will do much in Tenn. ; if fact I think he’ll be out the NFL within three years ….

      • Tim Edell

        Cowboys never traded him Junior!!! They didn’t resign him because the money the Eagles were offering him was beyond what they wanted to pay him. At least get your info right.

  • Woody

    Okay. This is poor analysis. 1/ different scheme and emphasis in Philly. 2/ Wrong system and people for Murray to excel. 3/ Age and use plus number of carries. /4 Idiot coach refusing to adjust system to talent erodes all kinds of play and effort from his team. /5 Murray can still give useful yards but not with that line. Stack the box against Dallas and Romo killed people with Bryant and Witten et al. Bradford to …? To me Murray for the Titans is a stop gap. Not sure how it will go but Philly was a bad fit from the get go.


    Demarco Murray is in serious decline. His legs have looked completely dead since late in the season for the cowboys. He will do nothing to change the fact that the workload he received killed his burst permanently. The Titans were fleeced by an obvious salary dump by Howie roseman. There were so many younger and fresher backs available through free agency that would have come way cheaper. This is a bad move by Tennessee. Rusty Smith or whatever his name is has been so terrible there have been rumors of the team being sold.

    • David TN

      Rusty smith was a third string Qb years ago, I assume you mean Ruston Webber, the GM the Titans fired last season. We have replaced him with a great gm in Jon Robinson. We are coming back. It may only mean a 6-10 or 7-9 season, but we are rebuilding and Murray will help us for the next two seasons more than the players we had on roster. Welcome to TN Demarco!