AFTER SUNDAY night, it's really hard to see a future for DeMarco Murray with the Eagles.
On national TV, Chip Kelly stuck the NFL's defending rushing leader to the sideline like chewed gum to the underside of a classroom desk.
Before that, the gradual diminishing of Murray's role certainly was notable, and widely reported, but a chance remained that the relationship could be saved. Against Buffalo, maybe 11 carries for 34 yards, working behind Ryan Mathews, wasn't what Murray had in mind, but he converted some short-yardage third downs, contributed to the victory. Keep him in that job, then in the offseason you talk it over, see if his legs get fresher a year removed from the 449 touches he had with Dallas in 2014, work with him on how to read the Eagles' blocking scheme, maybe install a few plays that work more to his strengths.
Hard to envision any of that happening now. Kelly didn't feel the need to even let Murray on the field until 21 minutes had elapsed in the Eagles' 40-17 loss to Arizona. Eventually, Murray got eight snaps, playing behind both Mathews and Darren Sproles, on a night when Sproles (six carries, 9 yards) wasn't any more effective than Murray. Both Murray carries came in the same third-quarter series. They gained a total of 3 yards. Mathews got the call on fourth-and-a-foot just before halftime, even though Murray has been perfect in short-yardage conversions.
After the game and then again Monday, Kelly's reasons for ignoring Murray didn't quite track.
"It was a combination of we only had 19 rushes (excluding a Sam Bradford scramble) on the entire day," Kelly said Monday. He then went on without ever saying what the rest of the combination was. "We need to run the ball more consistently for us to be good on the offensive side of the ball. When we get into those games where we're just throwing and not running the ball, obviously the numbers are not going to distribute the way anybody wants it to happen."
As a rationale for not using a third-stringer more, that might make sense. What Kelly never has explained or even acknowledged is how Murray became a third-stringer, and how Kelly hopes to go forward with a guy who'd cost $13 million off next year's cap to cut, whose contract is probably too big to interest a trading partner. (Unless Murray agreed to restructure to facilitate a trade.)
Why would you sign someone for $40 million over five years and then end up not being able to find any use for him in Game 14?
"We don't have any thoughts or plans going into it," Kelly said, which, if true, might explain a lot. "This is just how this season has expressed itself. We would have hoped we had carries to go around with everybody. We would love to have 35 carries that we can distribute between our backs.
"Again, we are not running the ball consistently (with) anybody, whether it be Ryan, whether it be DeMarco, whether it be Darren, for us to be successful on offense, and that's why we've been up and down . . . You're just not going to run it for the sake of running it and average 2 yards a carry and say, 'Well, at least we ran it enough and everyone got touches.' It's not about getting touches; it's about winning and productivity."
Kelly talked about being in too many passing situations, and about wanting to use personnel packages against the Cards that involved both Sproles and tight end Zach Ertz.
Asked if he is disappointed in Murray, who has 606 yards on 176 carries this season, Kelly said: "I'm disappointed in everything we're doing on the offensive side of the ball, from a consistency standpoint. I'm not singling out any single player."
Getting a grasp of tackling troubles
Kelly also used the C-word - consistency - when addressing the other main topic of his day-after news conference, which was the Eagles' terrible tackling performance against Arizona. The Cardinals ran for 230 yards and racked up 493 overall. It felt like they could have scored 50 or 60 points if they'd needed that many, even though the Eagles did a decent job in pass coverage against repeated deep strikes. The problem was getting Cardinals to the ground short of the first-down sticks.
Kelly pointed out that the Eagles had shut down the run in the second half a week earlier against Buffalo. He did not point out that they hadn't done very well against the run in any of several games before that.
"A lot of it is just fundamental," Kelly said. "Making sure you see your target, your head's up, you're moving your feet when you're tackling the guy, you're wrapping up . . . It's frustrating for everybody, because we have been good at it at times this year, and then there's been times when we haven't been good at it at all, the Tampa Bay game and the Arizona game specifically."
Kelly said the Eagles are sometimes trying to strip the ball without securing the tackle.
Asked about the 18-yard ride corner Byron Maxwell took with Cards tight end Darren Fells after an early catch, Maxwell unable to bring down Fells or even slow him very much, Kelly said: "Again, I think it's frustrating because I've seen us do it the right way and I've seen us play well. I've seen us tackle well against good teams that run the ball well, and that's what we've got to get back to this week. We have to learn from it, teach it and coach it better."
When the NFL stats came out Monday, the Eagles ranked 30th against the run. Washington, the team the Eagles have to beat this Saturday to stay alive, is only the 20th-ranked rushing offense.
Special-teams standout Seyi Ajirotutu suffered a sprained ankle and might miss the Washington game, a source said . . . It seems possible rookie corner Denzel Rice, on the roster but inactive all season, might be active against Washington this week, depending on what happens with Byron Maxwell (SC joint sprain) and Eric Rowe (concussion).
On Twitter: @LesBowen