DeMarco Murray played only 14 snaps in the Eagles' 35-28 win over the New England Patriots, and the reduced role might not be limited to Sunday. Although coach Chip Kelly has not officially demoted Murray, he gave no indication that Murray will be the team's top running back.
"Our game plan each week depends on who we're playing, what we're doing and who is available," Kelly said when asked about Murray getting more carries. "Each week we look at who is available and we put a game plan together against the team we are playing. So I don't know how much more plainly I can say that to you."
Against the Patriots, that meant Murray totaled only eight carries and spent most of the game on the sideline. Darren Sproles and Kenjon Barner both had more touches than Murray.
Kelly said the decision was made based on the matchup with the Patriots. He denied that the reduced role was related to Murray's performance this season. Murray is averaging only 3.5 yards per carry this season and 51.7 rushing yards per game.
During Kelly's first two seasons, LeSean McCoy was the starter for the Eagles. With McCoy visiting Sunday when the Eagles host the Buffalo Bills, the Eagles' backfield is more unsettled than it ever has been under Kelly. They have more depth at the position than any other point, but the Eagles signed Murray to a $40 million contract to serve as the featured running back.
When Ryan Mathews returns from a concussion, the backfield will be even more complicated. Kelly had no update on Mathews' timetable. Mathews missed three games, but he appeared to make progress last week by attending one indoor practice.
"I think everything is a weekly basis depending on who we are matched up with," Kelly said. "Who is healthy has a lot to do with it. Where does Ryan fit in when Ryan gets back healthy? But it's a good problem to have when you have some backs that when you used all three of them, all three of them are productive for you."
That answer did not offer much clarity about where Murray fits into the mix. Murray has taken the most running back snaps in every game he played before Sunday. He missed one to injury, and Mathews topped 100 yards that game. Murray has 88 more carries than Mathews and 101 more carries than Sproles. On Sunday, Sproles and Barner both topped 4 yards per carry. Murray had 3 yards per carry.
"DeMarco fits in the same way," Kelly said. "We had a couple of game plans. There were some things we were trying to do with the big linebackers and with Darren and Kenjon, but he fits in. It was a strange game offensively from the aspect of we were not on the field in the third quarter and very rarely are you not on the field but yet you're up two scores."
Kelly said all the running backs knew the game plan. However, both Sproles and Barner told reporters after the game that they did not know they would play that big of a role.
The Eagles had only 61 offensive snaps. Kelly said if the Eagles are back in the 70-snap range, they could expand Murray's role. But the question is whether more playing time is even merited given the production of the other backs.
Kelly made clear that he wants Sproles involved. Sproles had 15 carries for 66 yards and four catches for 34 yards. It marked his most offensive touches since joining the Eagles. He has played just 34 percent of the snaps this season.
"I think it just depends on how people are defending him," Kelly said. "There were no doubles on Darren the other day. . . . We also had not used him a lot before that, so I don't think that was part of their game plan going in that we were going to get him the ball in different manners that way. It was a conscious decision by our staff to get Darren more involved and when Darren has the ball in his hands, good things happen."
Even though Murray's production is down this season, he's still one year removed from rushing for 1,845 yards. The Eagles made a significant financial commitment bringing him to Philadelphia, and he still figures into their plans. How much has yet to be determined.
"We have to do what's the best thing for the Philadelphia Eagles," Kelly said. "So we are not trying to win a rushing championship or a passing championship or a receiving championship. . . . We are just trying to win football games."