Fantasy Fact or Fiction: Who's to blame for DeMarco Murray's slump?
If you’re a DeMarco Murray owner, you’re probably wishing you could jump in a time machine and go back a few weeks to make a different pick when you put his name up on the board. If you’re an Allen Robinson owner, hopefully his Week 1 no-show didn't force you to bench him for Week 2. This week’s fantasy Fact or Fiction will detail Murray’s unfathomable start and the newfound deep-ball skills that could make Robinson a top-20 receiver this year.
Fact: DeMarco Murray’s troubles aren’t totally correctable.
Here are some things that are greater than DeMarco Murray’s yards-per-carry average through two games: Pi, congressmen from Delaware in the House of Representatives, the slugging percentages of 17 MLB players, from Bryce Harper (.674) to Anthony Rizzo (.525). Murray has 11 yards on 21 carries in his first two games with the Eagles, which comes out to 0.52 yards per carry. It’s a number so absurd it's almost impossible.
Last year, Murray kicked off the season with eight straight 100-yard games. He’s still looking for his first game in double digits this season. He had nine yards on eight carries in Week 1. When it seemed that it couldn’t possibly get worse, he ran 13 times for two—yes, two—yards. It would seem farcical if we didn’t all see the tragicomedy before our eyes, with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman serving as a sort of Shakespearean chorus, narrating the carnage.
It's true that Murray has seen better days. Will the struggles continue, leading to the winter of his discontent? Or will the Eagles fix their issues and once again make the world his oyster?
The problems with Philadelphia’s offense, especially the run game, stem entirely from the interior offensive line. While it has to be a bit comforting for Murray owners that he hasn’t been the root of the struggles, the structural deficiencies in the offense may be present all season. The Dallas front four seemingly lived in Philadelphia’s backfield last Sunday. The Eagles moved backwards on five of Murray’s 13 carries. In a stretch of five possessions from late in the first quarter through late in the third, Murray had a total of five runs for minus-21 yards. It’s impossible for that to fall on the running back’s shoulders.
Below is the first of those five runs. It appears designed to open a hole between the right guard and tackle. Let’s survey the damage before diving into what went wrong.
It takes all of two Cowboys to completely blow up the play. Terrell McClain instantly pushes center Jason Kelce five yards into the backfield, drawing the attention of tackle Andrew Gardner. The left side of the line is supposed to get to the second level, but left guard Allen Barbre seemingly decides that Sean Lee is not important. Sean Lee is very important. He cleans up what McClain started and holds up Murray before Barry Church finishes him off.
We’ll now skip ahead to Murray’s first run of the second half. This would be an encouraging time to see a big run. Perhaps Chip Kelly and the rest of the offensive staff used halftime to make the necessary adjustments. A gain of even four or five yards would be a sign that maybe, just maybe, they figured out what went wrong in the first half.
So much for that. Make sure you watch that all the way until the end. The culprit makes himself known with his reaction after the play.
This play is designed to go off right tackle Lane Johnson. He blocks down, with Gardner and Kelce pulling to lead what supposed to be a convoy for Murray. The success of this play is dependent on Brent Celek getting a block on the left defensive end, in this case DeMarcus Lawrence. He has to step up to clear enough space for Gardner to be able to pull behind him. Unfortunately, that created plenty of time for Lawrence to blow past Celek and meet Murray about half a second after he took the handoff from Sam Bradford.
Kelce could have come off his responsibility as the pulling center and block Lawrence when he saw him coming free into the backfield, but he sticks with his original assignment. Even if he did block Lawrence, this play wasn’t going anywhere.
Both plays we’ve looked at have been run to the right and out of the shotgun. How about we check out a play to the left with Bradford under center? The results are going to look awfully similar.
The responsibility for this five-yard loss is squarely on Jason Peters and Barbre. Peters's technique suggests that the play is designed to go outside. He shuffles out for a reach block, which would let him slow Jeremy Mincey before passing him on to Barbre and moving to the second level. Mincey, however, doesn’t play along and rushes straight ahead. That lets him slip between the left tackle and guard. Neither of them gets even a chip, let alone an actual block, on Mincey, and all has to do is run unfettered into the backfield and bury Murray before he has a chance to get going.
The reverse angle tells a good story, with help from Aikman on the telestrator.
This Philadelphia offense is complex and depends on athletic offensive linemen handling a number of assignments. The five guys in front of Murray have been completely incapable of doing what is asked of them in this offense through two games. If they can’t turn it around, Murray will long for his Dallas line. Through no fault of his own, he should be viewed as a high-end RB2, not an RB1.
Fiction: Allen Robinson is a one-trick Jaguar.
Robinson was a popular breakout pick heading into this season, but if there was one knock against him, it was that he didn’t flash a ton of big-play ability as a rookie. Just five of Robinson’s 48 receptions went for at least 20 yards last season. That was the same number in the exact same amount of catches as Owen Daniels. Clay Harbor managed to have five catches for at least 20 yards on 26 total receptions. Louis Murphy needed just 31 grabs to rack up six that went for 20 yards or more. Clearly, this was where Robinson would have to grow if he was going to become a top-20 receiver in year two.
After the Jaguars’ second game of the season, it looks like Robinson has added the driver to his bag. Robinson had the best game of his career in Jacksonville’s win over Miami, catching six passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns. Before we get to his 46-yard score, however, let’s look at the other part of his game that makes him so good.
Elite receivers win in two spots on the field. In addition to getting deep and making plays behind the defense, they are nightmare coverage assignments in the red zone. At 6'3" and 215 pounds, Robinson was always supposed to be a red-zone machine. He put that on display on his first touchdown against the Dolphins.
On this play, the Jaguars had a second-and-goal from the Dolphins’ three-yard line. They set up heavy to the right, with Robinson the only non-lineman to the left side of the formation. The setup is no more than a feint to get the Dolphins to play run to the strong side. It gets the desired result, as Robinson is one-on-one with Brice McCain. Robinson jabs outside, McCain bites, and that creates plenty of space for an easy touchdown, even though the pass gets deflected at the line.
This is a route we see time and time again from every team in the league inside the five. It’s a staple for the best receivers in the game. It’s best run by a big-bodied receiver with the footwork to get open right of the line. As we see below, Robinson has that footwork.
Robinson’s second touchdown came on a third-and-five from the Dolphins’ 46-yard line. This was an area that wasn’t exactly a strength for Robinson last year. This season, however, he already has four catches on eight deep targets. This one resulted in a touchdown. The focus on Robinson and safety Walt Aikens shows you everything you need to know.
Aikens was squatting on a shorter, inside route, likely because of Robinson’s reputation from his rookie season. It won’t take too many plays like this for him to make that reputation a thing of the past.