But because Murray costs a lot of money (he signed a five-year, $40 million deal in March) Kelly has to explain why Murray isn't playing well. Murray isn't helping matters.
Kelly isn't keen on changing his power spread to resemble what Dallas does.
"We never had any discussion that we were going to change our system," Kelly said, via CSN Philly. "The only discussions we had -- and this is why I like DeMarco -- is we all talked about winning when he came here on his visit. And Ryan Mathews was here on his visit when DeMarco came. They both knew exactly what we were trying to accomplish here."
Is Kelly right in saying this? Possibly, if only because stating Murray isn't a scheme fit for the Eagles is a platitude that requires far more nuance than it's getting.
Throughout the season, game by game directional running statistics show a bit of a concession on Kelly's part. Murray started out as an outside-the-tackles runner whose carries slowly featured more runs between the guards and center, where Murray is supposedly most productive and most comfortable even if his directional run stats from 2014 tell a different story. In Dallas, some of his most show-stopping runs came outside the tackles, and the same holds true for his brief time in Philadelphia (doesn't it make more sense to use Jason Peters as the bedrock of a play, and then send out athletic offensive linemen like Jason Kelce to lead block in space, where they are most effective?). He also has significantly more carries up the middle (50) in 2015 than any other direction. If anything, it looks like Kelly is digesting these numbers on the fly and doing what he can to maximize Murray on a week-to-week basis.
The other myth is that Kelly needs to concede and just let Murray run in non-shotgun formations. This is ludicrous for a few reasons, and is only a valid argument by Murray defenders if Kelly straight-up lied to Murray and told him that he would change decades worth of his offense just so the running back could be closer to the line of scrimmage. Kelly's offense is run primarily out of the shotgun, and always will be.
To douse this theory in cold water, Eagles Rewind has some interesting numbers which suggest there is little difference in Murray's career production between shotgun runs and runs under center. In 2013, he was at 5.2 yards per carry out of the shotgun and 5.1 under center. In 2012, it was 4.0 out of the shotgun and 4.1 under center. In 2011, it was 6.5 out of the gun and 5.4 under center. Sample size must be considered, however, in that the under center runs were more prevalent.
Kelly cannot come out and say that Murray is simply being outplayed by Sproles and Ryan Mathews, and maybe that's not the case. Maybe there is even more nuance required beyond directional run statistics and the limited sample size we have on film this year. But there is always a chance that, because Kelly whiffed on his initial No. 1 running back target, Frank Gore, and needed another power back to operate the power spread, he went to the next available on the list without fully considering that Murray needed more time to relax after playing the workload equivalent of two seasons back in 2014. After watching Murray intensely for an entire season, Eagles Rewind came to the same conclusion.
This weekend offers one of the most fascinating Eagles games of the year because we'll get to see exactly what Kelly is made of and what kind of equity he has within the organization. Murray was supposed to be one of the team's stars, at least from a marketing perspective. After owner Jeffrey Lurie watched DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin and Mike Vick walk out the door, it was a novel idea to have a marketable player again. Can Kelly simply bench that star or whittle down his carries? Is that really part of the plan, or are we just overreacting to a Patriots game that didn't call for Murray to play much anyway? Or is Kelly supposed to do what seems to be impossible at the moment: get Murray going at all costs.