It’s been no secret that this offseason, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly has completely remade the team’s stable of running backs. A group that was formerly led by charismatic superstar LeSean McCoy is now led by soft spoken, hard-nosed runner DeMarco Murray. Although Murray dominated the NFL this past season, you wouldn’t know it by speaking to him. He lets his work on the field do the talking and that seems to be the focus for the Eagles heading into the 2015 season.
Murray is joined by another new face in Philadelphia’s new-look backfield, former San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews. Similar to Murray, Mathews is a physical, downhill runner that doesn’t shy away from contact or dance around defenders. Some reporters have hinted that Kelly was tired of McCoy’s running style and wanted to bring in running backs that would hit a hole when they saw one and not try and hit a home run on every single play.
Although they are similar style running backs, Mathews needed the change of scenery more than Murray did. In San Diego, Mathews was constantly battling injuries and only played a full season just once during his five-year tenure with the Chargers. But it wasn’t just his health that was a problem for Mathews in San Diego, he didn’t receive much help from his offensive line, especially this past season.
Although he played in just 6 games in 2014, Mathews took an absolute beating when he was on the field. According to this outstanding article on Pro Football Focus detailing running backs being hit in the backfield this past season, Mathews was in a pretty poor situation with the Chargers. Only two other running backs in the NFL, Carlos Hyde and James Starks, were hit at the same or higher percentage of times in the backfield that Mathews was in 2014.
But it doesn’t just stop there, Mathews was hit most often in the NFL three or more yards behind the line of scrimmage, on a whopping 12.2% of his carries during this past season. That’s quite a burden for a running back to deal with and it essentially proves that the Chargers offensive line was downright awful in 2014. Luckily for Mathews, that won’t be the case in Philadelphia.
Even with the losses of both starting guards, Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans, the Eagles should still be one of the best run blocking offensive lines in the NFL. Jason Peters, Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce are all still starters heading into the upcoming season and each were dominant in the running game in 2014. According to Pro Football Focus, Peters was the best run blocking left tackle, Johnson was the second best run blocking right tackle and Jason Kelce was the sixth best run blocking center.
That’s an incredibly formidable unit to have upfront blocking in the run game and it’s also worth mentioning that the Eagles as a team had the highest run blocking grade according to Pro Football Focus as well, well above the next closest team which was the Dallas Cowboys. Which NFL team had the lowest run blocking grade in 2014? You guessed it, Mathews’ former team, the San Diego Chargers.
All of these signs point to Mathews having a great season in midnight green but none more than the scheme that Kelly uses in Philadelphia. Mathews excels at running the ball out of shotgun formations and luckily for him, that’s what the Eagles primarily use in their offense. In fact, Mathews and Murray were the best two running backs in the NFL in terms of yards per carry out of the shotgun formation. Is it a coincidence that Kelly decided to sign both of them? I think not.
Lastly, it will also help Mathews that he won’t be the “workhorse” running back anymore. In a group with Murray, as well as Darren Sproles, Mathews will be able to carry the ball around ten times or so a game and stay fresh throughout the season. But Mathews won’t just be carrying the ball in Philadelphia, he’ll likely see a fair amount of targets in the passing game as well. Mathews, Murray and Sproles are all dangerous receivers out of the backfield with reliable hands.
It remains to be seen how exactly Mathews will be implemented into the Eagles offense for the upcoming season, but he’ll certainly be put to use by Kelly and his staff. There’s no way the Eagles signed Mathews to a three-year, $12 million contract to watch from the bench. He’ll be used quite often in the City of Brotherly Love and will likely flourish in 2015.
More from Inside the Iggles
- Eagles captains earn high praise on roster blending veteran leadership, youth
- How former Eagles star Cre’Von LeBlanc helped Renegades upstage Cowboys
- Eagles 2023 schedule: Every WR duo Darius Slay, James Bradberry will battle
- Imagining better names for Jason Kelce’s Good Guy Award
- Bold predictions for the Philadelphia Eagles offense in 2023