Three weeks into DeMarco Murray's demotion, it's no longer surprising when he is not the Eagles' leading ballcarrier. But his role has never been as minimal as it was in the 40-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, when Murray played only eight of 64 offensive snaps and touched the ball twice.
This is not what Murray expected when he signed a five-year, $40 million contract in March. It's not what the Eagles expected, either. It's the situation they are in, though, because coach Chip Kelly has made clear that he won't try to placate the high-priced running back.
"You're just not going to run it for the sake of running it and average two yards a carry and say, 'Well, at least we ran it enough and everyone got touches,' " Kelly said. "It's not about getting touches; it's about winning and productivity."
It's reasonable to wonder why the Eagles gave Murray such a contract if this is how they're going to use him. Kelly said the Eagles "didn't have any thoughts or plans going into it" and that what happened "is just how the season expressed itself."
But there was a clear shift in December. Murray had the most playing time of any Eagles running back in every game he played through the season's first three months. Starting in Week 13, Murray's playing time declined. He was No. 3 behind Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles on Sunday.
"We would love to have 35 carries that we can distribute between our backs," Kelly said. ". . . Again we are not running the ball consistently enough in 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. When we can run the football and get those guys carries, then we are doing a good job, but we also have to be successful doing it."
Kelly said that it was not fair to call Murray the third-team running back and that the Eagles only had 19 rushes to distribute to their backs on Sunday. Mathews had 11 and Sproles had six. If the Eagles ran more consistently, Kelly said, there would have been more carries to go around.
But carries are different than snaps. When the Eagles lost to Washington in Week 4, Murray was unhappy with the number of his carries even though he played the most snaps at running back. Entering the rematch with Washington on Saturday, Murray is barely getting onto the field. The eight snaps he played against the Cardinals were by far his lowest total this season. He did not enter the game until the second quarter.
Sproles played 47 percent of the snaps and Mathews played 41. This wasn't a matter of rotating all the backs. It was rotating Sproles and Mathews, with Murray getting whatever was left.
Although the Eagles are not directly admitting it, Kelly has seemed to draw a line regarding Murray's lack of production. Murray averages only 3.4 yards per carry, which is tied for the worst average of any running back in the top 20 in carries.
Kelly did not use Murray even in situations that would seem to highlight his skill set. Murray has been an effective short-yardage rusher this season - he's perfect on third and fourth downs with 1 yard to go - but Kelly chose Mathews for a pivotal fourth and 1 against the Cardinals instead of sending Murray onto the field. Kelly defended that decision by saying that Mathews is the Eagles' biggest running back. On the Eagles' official roster, Mathews is listed as three pounds heavier than Murray.
Asked if he was disappointed in Murray's production this season, Kelly said he's "disappointed in everything we are doing on the offensive side of the ball from a consistency standpoint" and would not single out one player.
The situation is complicated because Murray's contract makes any transaction with him this offseason burdensome. The running back is guaranteed $18 million, but Kelly has shown no inclination to acquiesce just because of Murray's contract. The coach said Murray would be involved Saturday against Washington, but there's no telling how much.
"Our concern is beating the Washington Redskins, and that's what it has always been on a weekly basis," Kelly said. "All of those guys are going to play again this week and hopefully, as a group, we get more than 19 carries so that we can distribute between those three guys."
Kelly had no update on cornerback Byron Maxwell, who exited the Cardinals game with a shoulder injury. Cornerback Eric Rowe is in the league-mandated concussion protocol. Wide receiver Seyi Ajirotutu also left the game with an ankle injury. The Eagles return to practice on Tuesday.