With two weeks in the books, NFL football is officially in full swing, and we can make some more meaningful judgements than after just a single game. Here’s what I noticed this week:
DeMarco Murray off to a historically awful start to the season
Throughout the preseason, the Eagles offense was soaring high and looked as if it were on pace to be in the top tier in the NFL. After two weeks, though, the league is left wondering what has happened to the Chip Kelly-built/run unit. The entire offense appears to be struggling, but the play of free agent addition DeMarco Murray, who has less rushing yards than 18 starting quarterbacks, has been painful to watch. Murray’s 11 yards on 21 carries averages out to 0.52 yards per, and is the worst start to the season for a running back in the past 55 years. Since 1960, only seven players have carried the ball more than 20 times in his team’s first two games and gained less than 50 yards. What has happened to the 2014 rushing champion, who at this time last year had 285 rushing yards and was averaging 5.6 yards per carry?
To start, of the 21 carries Murray has had this season, 18 have come from a shotgun formation. All of last season Murray only had 36 rushes, 9% of his carries, from the shotgun. Additionally, per Pro Football Focus, Dallas’ offensive line has the third-highest run block grade, while Philly’s is 16th – and after this brutal loss put the Eagles at 0-2 to the Cowboys’ 2-0, Murray may be left wondering after this season whether the so-called perfect fit in the Chip Kelly offense is not so perfect after all.
A healthy Palmer makes Arizona a Super Bowl contender
Before an ACL tear cut Carson Palmer’s 2014 season short, the Arizona Cardinals were debatably the best team in football and were preparing to make a run at the Super Bowl. Now, Palmer is healthy again, and the Cardinals are proving to be a serious threat in the NFC. Palmer is 7-0 in his last seven starts, and through those seven, has thrown 18 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. A major part of his good play this season is due to the Cardinals’ much improved running game – after averaging the second-fewest rushing yards per game last season with 78.5, the Cardinals have jumped that number up to 117.5 this season. This improved rushing attack has led to a heavy dose of play action passes, where Palmer has been lethal. 25% of his passes in these first two games have come off play action, and he has completed 71.4% of those passes, posted a QB rating of 153.3, and has thrown 3 of his 7 touchdowns. If Arizona can continue to force defenses to respect their running game and keep Palmer healthy – who has yet to be sacked thus far this season – they will be a serious contender in the NFC.
Suh not living up to massive contract
The Miami Dolphins handed Ndamukong Suh a king’s ransom in hopes that the all-pro defensive tackle would help improve a D-line that gave up the 10th-most rushing yards per contest last season at 121.1. So far, Suh has been disappointing, and so has the Dolphins’ defense as a whole. Opponents are averaging 142 yards on the ground against Miami; only five teams are giving up a higher amount. Through the first two games, Suh’s run stop percentage, which measures the percentage of a player’s run defense snaps where he was responsible for a stop, is only 1.9% – last season it was 9.7%, the sixth-highest amongst defensive tackles. Suh has also made little impact for the Dolphins’ pass rush, as he has zero sacks, zero QB hits, and only four hurries. The Dolphins went into this season expecting a top tier defense, and in order to get there, they are going to need Suh to earn his big contract.
by Sean Fener, Saint Joseph’s University