Pat Shurmur sighed and rolled his eyes and denied falling back on clichéd coach-speak even as he fell back on clichéd coach-speak, all to avoid admitting what everyone knows to be true: The Eagles will continue treating their fourth-best running back like he is their fourth-best running back, no matter what they're paying him.
DeMarco Murray doesn't view himself that way, of course. He led the NFL in rushing last season, setting the Dallas Cowboys' single-season yardage record. He signed a five-year contract with the Eagles that could be worth as much as $40 million. He is accomplished and well-compensated and, after playing 14 snaps and carrying the ball eight times Sunday against the Patriots, he told Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie on the plane ride home that he was unsatisfied with his role in the offense, according to ESPN.com.
Funny, because the Eagles have been unsatisfied with Murray's role, too. Murray has 163 carries this season - more than Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, and Kenjon Barner combined - yet he's averaging a paltry 3.5 yards per attempt. Each of them has been more productive, relatively speaking, than Murray has. Each of them seems to hit the hole faster, more forcefully, than Murray does. And as Shurmur, their offensive coordinator, made clear with his answers Tuesday, the Eagles apparently are through calling Murray their No. 1 running back and feeding him the ball as if he were.
Question: Pat, when do you pull DeMarco aside and explain to him that he's going to share carries with the other guys?
Answer: "I think what you've got to look at is, we won a football game the other night against a really fine opponent, and he contributed in the game. That's the reality of it, so there should be some joy in that, at least for a few hours, until we get back to Philly from our flight from Providence."
Question: How would you evaluate Murray's play this season?
Answer: "We're going to do everything we can to get ready to play Buffalo, all right?"
Ah, yes. Buffalo. The Eagles play the Bills and LeSean McCoy this Sunday, an event that will shine a brighter beam on what's turning out to be Chip Kelly's biggest mistake of his whirlwind offseason. Whatever advantage the Eagles might have gained on their intra-divisional rivals by signing Murray away from the Cowboys has been nullified by the complete incompatibility of Murray and this iteration of Kelly's offense. If it was easy and obvious to note earlier this season that the injuries to and poor play of the Eagles' offensive line made it difficult for any running back to succeed, the recent past has suggested that maybe Murray was always a major part of the problem.
Mathews - who plans to play Sunday after missing two games with a concussion - Sproles, and Barner haven't struggled in this system to the same degree that Murray has. They don't run as if they're surrounded by a bed of tulips, as Murray does on carry after carry. They've been better, full stop, and at 5-7 and somehow still alive for a playoff spot, the Eagles are past the point of assuaging Murray's ego or fiddling with their offense to better suit his strengths or preferences. For instance, Murray didn't often accept a handoff from a quarterback while the quarterback was in the shotgun and while Murray was flatfooted. He does it routinely with the Eagles. It's like watching an '84 Datsun try to kick over in the winter.
"The scheme's a lot different from what Dallas did," Eagles tackle Lane Johnson said. "Sproles and Kenjon have been here - Kenjon played at Oregon - so it might be more familiar to them, I guess. DeMarco's more comfortable, I think, when we're under center. It just gives him more time to read the blocks."
Had the Eagles not signed Murray out of sheer impulsiveness once Frank Gore decided to spurn them for the Indianapolis Colts, had they considered acquiring Murray from the beginning of free agency, they might have been more knowledgeable about these idiosyncrasies. They might have been better prepared to judge whether he was a suitable replacement for McCoy. Instead, they handed him a contract whose salary-cap implications make it all but impossible for them to cut him anytime soon, and as it stands now, the decision to trade McCoy to the Bills and bring in Murray has flopped for the most ironic of reasons.
Murray wasn't just supposed to thrive in Kelly's system. He was supposed to be a high-character, trouble-free alternative to the oft-immature McCoy. Yet a teammate called Murray's effort into question to The Inquirer after Murray slid to the ground to avoid a hit last month against the Dolphins, and now Murray has gone over Kelly's head to lodge a complaint with the owner - a gambit that might have worked with Jerry Jones in Dallas but was nothing but bad form here. Murray had an opportunity to clear up the matter Tuesday, but he declined to comment, letting the ESPN report speak for itself.
"I talk Thursdays, fellas," he said before exiting the locker room. "I talk Thursdays."
And he plays Sundays. Just not enough to suit him. And not well enough to suit anyone else.