DeMarco Murray had a clear-cut demotion against the Patriots, and Darren Sproles, along with ex-Oregon Duck Kenjon Barner, saw an increase in rushing attempts. Sproles had 15 attempts, while Barner had 9, and Murray had 8.
Chip Kelly said the reason for Murray’s demotion was because the Patriots have a “big group of linebackers.” The logic in that statement, according to Kelly, is that Sproles (5-9 190 pounds) and Barner (5-9 195 pounds) have an easier time evading “big linebackers” than Murray (6-foot 217 pounds) because they are smaller and more elusive. Sproles and Barner combined for 105 yards rushing, so the strategy worked, but they will be playing smaller linebackers going forward. Will the scheme change accordingly? That Murray is not a great fit for the Eagles offense is becoming clear, so it will be interesting to see if he continues to see declining snaps going forward.
Murray finished the game with 24 yards, but, take away one 19-yard run, and he had five yards on his other seven carries. He has not scored a touchdown in the last four games, has just 54 yards rushing over the past two weeks, and has just one 100+ yard rushing game this season. Will Murray’s declining attempts become an ongoing trend?
The wide-receiver position was also in flux during the Patriots game. Chip Kelly benched Miles Austin – and released him today – and rookie Jermaine Krause saw increased snaps in the game. Krause had one catch for four yards, but he presents an interesting prospect for a team that needs improved performance from their wide receivers desperately right now. The Eagles receivers underperformed as a whole against the Patriots – like most of the season: Riley Cooper (1 reception, 14 yards), Brent Celek (1 reception, 16 yards), Nelson Agholor (0 receptions, 0 yards), Josh Huff (0 receptions, 0 yards), Zach Ertz (2 receptions, 9 yards, 1 TD), Jordan Matthews (3 receptions, 36 yards, 1 TD). Darren Sproles’ four receptions were the most on the team.
The Eagles need to start using Sproles, who had 100 all-purpose yards against the Patriots, to cover up for bad performances by the Eagles wide receivers more frequently. Sitting Austin against the Patriots – and then releasing him today – was a small step towards fixing the problem, but the team needs to continue getting Sproles more involved in the passing game.
The defensive line and linebacker positions have continued to be an ever-revolving transition as the season goes along, yet the Eagles pressured Tom Brady frequently Sunday. In relation, Vinny Curry saw an increase in snaps, playing 55 of 89 defensive snaps (62 percent). He played 21 percent of snaps against the Lions and 19 percent against the Buccaneers (both 45-point losses), and he had not previously played more than 42 percent of defensive snaps all season before Sunday.
The change was based partly on scheme, with the Eagles playing dime and nickel to combat the three-receiver sets used frequently by the Patriots, and partly because Bennie Logan is nursing a knee injury. Anyway, Curry has a knack for pressuring the quarterback, and, even though he did not get a sack Sunday, his performance helped the Eagles get four sacks against Tom Brady (two by Connor Barwin and two by Brandon Graham) and maintain constant pressure on the quarterback. The team would be wise to use Curry more frequently in the future.
At inside linebacker, Kiko Alonso played 79 percent of the defensive snaps, second-most among linebackers on the team. He had more snaps than last year’s starting inside linebackers combined: Mychal Kendricks (54 percent) and DeMeco Ryans (24 percent). Linebacker Brandon Graham (75 percent) also played more snaps than Ryans and Kendricks. Alonso has seen wavering amounts of snaps recently (69 percent vs. Tampa Bay, 57 percent vs. Detroit), so it will be interesting to see if he gets on the field more often going forward.
The changes Kelly made worked well yesterday, but the question now is if he will stick with the positive changes going forward. Will he make more? Will he go back to what he has done before? Who knows? Only time will tell, but, at least, he would be wise to use more of Sproles and Curry.