DeMarco Murray looks nothing like the player that led the AFC in rushing last season. We know it, he knows it, and most importantly, so do the Tennessee Titans.
With each passing game the cries for Derrick Henry to get the lion’s share of the carries grow louder and louder, especially after his game-winning fourth quarter drive against the Colts last Sunday where he shredded their defense with eight straight punishing runs.
Murray finished the day with a paltry 9 yards on 12 carries. That’s less than one yard per attempt.
Henry has been the better runner this season. He currently leads the team in rushing, even though Murray has more attempts. He is also averaging a yard more per carry through eleven games.
And while the numbers suggest that it may be time to hand the keys to the run game to the young buck, I caution Titans fans that now is not the time to reduce Murray’s role on offense.
For starters, Murray is still the more complete back. His knowledge of the game, ability to pass-protect, and proficiency as a route running pass catcher far outweigh his inability to explode through the hole as he did so many times last season.
Murray is fourth on the team with 31 receptions, and nine of those catches extended drives with first downs. He is also second on the team with 174 yards after the catch, meaning that he is still elusive enough to make defenders miss in the open field.
From a scheme standpoint, Murray’s ability to play and produce out of multiple formations makes the offense less predictable.
We’ve seen Murray lined up in the power I formation, alongside Marcus Mariota in shotgun formations, and even split out wide or in the slot as a receiver where he’s made plays for the offense to keep drives alive.
Henry, with all of his youth, speed, and power, simply isn’t ready to handle that type of versatile role just yet.
Another aspect of Murray’s game that cannot be minimized is his professionalism.
Rarely is he not where he is supposed to be. Murray won’t lose you games with bone-head plays, penalties, missed blocking assignments, and turnovers.
And last but not least, Murray has a clutch gene that you are either born with or you’re not.
Three weeks ago Murray took a simple toss pass from Mariota, squared his shoulders, put on a juke move, then got lower than any defender for the go-ahead touchdown to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals.
His third of the game.
Yes, Derrick Henry is the more reliable running back at this stage of the season, but Murray is the better overall player when you factor in all of the intangibles.
The Titans have already started the process of transitioning to Henry as the feature back. Last year Murray held a 2-1 advantage in carries. This season the backs have seen a 50-50 split in carries.
Henry is the future, but for a team that’s in the midst of a playoff run now, you have to keep your veteran with big game experience out there as well.
Both backs will be needed down the stretch for the Titans to reach their goal, and it would be a grave mistake to reduce Murray’s role now that the finish line is within their reach.