Five on the Bills
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Considering the time of year, it might be fair to call Chip Kelly the Ebenezer Scrooge of the NFL because his Ghost of Running Backs Past is about to collide head on with the Ghost of Running Backs Present.
And you get the distinct feeling that the Philadelphia Eagles coach can't wait to finish his own version of "A Christmas Carol" by getting to the third of his scheduled spirits, the future at that particular position.
With the Buffalo Bills set to invade Philadelphia on Sunday, it's clear time hasn't healed all the wounds between Kelly and LeSean McCoy, who dismissed his old mentor's olive branch of shaking hands Wednesday when talking to reporters.
"Listen, man, Chip can't shake (expletive)," McCoy said. "He knows this. "That's why (he) said it. I know him. He's very intelligent. I can read between the lines. Like I said, I have nothing against him, no hatred. We're not enemies. I won't say anything wrong to him. But there's nothing for us to talk about, at all. Simple as that."
Kelly, of course, traded McCoy to the Bills in the offseason for linebacker Kiko Alonso, just months after the dynamic running back became the Eagles' all-time leading rusher.
Kelly framed the move as a salary-cap issue at the time but that went up in smoke when he signed DeMarco Murray to a five-year, $40 million contract and also gave Ryan Mathews as significant deal.
McCoy didn't take the trade well and unleashed some veiled racism charges against Kelly, unfair considering the two players replacing Shady are also African-American.
"I said what I said (that Kelly got rid of all the good players, especially the good black players) because it's how I felt," McCoy said.
The more legitimate criticism is that Kelly did not like McCoy's "big personality," and wanted him out of his locker room.
Since the trade McCoy claims he hasn't spoken to Kelly nor received an explanation as to why he was moved.
"I'm not talking to Chip," a still-bitter McCoy said. "We got nothing to talk about. He can't call me. He can't shake my hand. There's nothing he can do with me. He can't say (expletive) to me. It's as simple as that."
Kelly was far more diplomatic on a conference call with Buffalo-based reporters earlier in the day when asked if he would shake McCoy's hand after the game.
"Yeah, I would want to shake LeSean's hand," the Eagles coach said.
"I tried to call him after (the trade), and I talked to his agent after," Kelly continued. "I always wanted to talk to LeSean. Again, I have no issues with LeSean at all. He did everything we asked him to do when he was here. You guys know him, he's a great personality. He's got an infectious personality. I've got tremendous respect for this man."
That sentiment is not a two-way street although McCoy claimed he will indeed shake hands with Eagles owner Jeff Lurie, as well as running backs coach Duce Staley and a number of teammates but Shady remains a Chip-free zone.
"He knows me, he know how I act," McCoy said. "There's nothing he can tell me. There's nothing he can talk about."
There also isn't much for Kelly to talk about with Murray these days either after the former All-Pro voiced his frustration to Lurie over his reduced rule in the team's offense on the plane ride home from the team's biggest win of the season.
"I think what you’ve got to look at is we won a football game the other night against a really fine opponent and (Murray) contributed in the game and I think that's the reality of it," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said when addressing the controversy Tuesday. "There should be some joy in that at least for a few hours until we get back to Philly from our flight from Providence."
There was no joy for Murray, however, as he not only bristled over the fact he saw the football less than Darren Sproles and Kenjon Barner against New England last Sunday, he also expressed confusion on how he fits into Kelly's offensive philosophy as a whole, which needs runners with lateral movement skills, not the north-south abilities of a power back like Murray.
Murray played just 14 offensive snaps against the Pats, touching it eight times for 24 yards.
Throughout the season Murray has struggled mightily in Kelly's offense, which calls for a lot of outside-zone running from an offset-shotgun look. After amassing over 1,800 yards in Dallas last season, Murray has just 569 yards on 163 carries this season, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry.
For what it's worth, Kelly claimed Murray's limited role against New England was due to matchups, not the high-priced back's ineffectiveness.
"We have three running backs right now that we felt were productive," the coach claimed Monday. "We had a couple of game plans, there were some things we were trying to do with the big linebackers and with Darren and Kenjon, but (Murray) fits in. It was a strange game offensively from the aspect of we were not on the field in the third quarter and very rarely are you not on the field but yet you're up two scores. We had an interception return for a touchdown, and then we had a punt return for a touchdown.
"So that lack of snaps usually it's because of we are not being -- I've been there before, it's because we have not been productive offensively. It's just because our defense was scoring and our special teams was scoring. It's not like you're going to say, ‘We'll take it any time we can.’ But it was a different game from that standpoint, so we only had 50-some-odd snaps total. Hopefully we will get back up to where we normally are in the 70s, and I think that gets expanded a little bit, especially in the run game."
On Tuesday ESPN.com claimed that Murray told Lurie his coach had broken promises that were made while the Eagles were trying to convince Murray to sign with them back in March.
Murray now correctly believes he isn't a fit for Kelly’s preferred offensive looks and not enough changes have been made to take advantage of his more traditional running style.
Organizations often make promises to get star free agents to sign on the dotted line. In the NFL, however, commitment is tied to performance and Murray will continue to learn that as the Eagles make their NFC East push with other options.
"You just play the guys and put the guys in the game that will help us win the football game," Shurmur said. "And like I said, we feel good about all the guys being in there."
The future at this particular position can't come soon enough for Kelly.
IN THE SHADY
It's self-evident that McCoy is the better fit for what Kelly wants to run on offense but he's also fit in better than Murray in his new circumstance. "Shady" is averaging 79.2 rushing yards per game so far and the Bills as a whole rack up 140.9 per game on the ground, fourth in the NFL.
"From our perspective, we couldn't be happier with (the trade)," Bills coach Rex Ryan said. "I mean, obviously LeSean is a great player, great talent and we love him in the building. He's got that great energy about him and (is a) good teammate."
McCoy piled up his third 100-yard performance over the past five weeks with 112 in last Sunday's 30-21 win over Houston, which kept the Bills one game behind New York, Pittsburgh and Kansas City in the AFC wild-card race.
"Shady's on top of it right now," Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "He's playing the best you've seen him play. He's peaking right now, like he does a lot of times; I think always in November and December, you've seen him be at his best. It looks like he's in great shape. They are feeding him the ball a lot. He's being Shady: he's making the cuts and stopping on a dime and changing directions and making plays when they aren't there."
TURNOVERS WILL TELL THE STORY
When the Eagles succeed, it's usually when the defense and special teams contribute and both chipping in to this scoring total in Foxborough. Through 13 weeks Davis' oft-criticized defense is second in the NFL with 23 takeaways but Buffalo first-year starter Tyrod Taylor has done an excellent job protecting the football, especially recently.
Taylor has attempted a franchise-record 187 consecutive passes without an interception but he's still taking his shifts as evidenced by his three touchdown throws in each of Buffalo's last two games.
"I think he's legit," Ryan said of Taylor. "I think he's real and I think people are starting to realize that."
THE BETTER WATKINS BROTHER
The Eagles have Jaylen Watkins back after re-signing him off Buffalo's practice squad but considering the troubles the team has had at receiver, it would be nicer to have his brother Sammy, an emerging star who has caught three of Taylor's TD passes over the past two weeks.
Sammy Watkins caught six balls for 158 yards against a very good Kansas City defense in Week 12 and followed that up with a 109-yard day against an even better Texans stop unit.
The revamped Eagles defensive backfield with rookie Eric Rowe starting outside opposite Byron Maxwell and safety Ed Reynolds taking over in the nickel while Malcolm Jenkins drops into the slot will be tested far more this week than against New England, which was too banged-up at the wide receiver position.
MARCELL IN THE MIDDLE
Remember what Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy did to the interior of the Eagles' offensive line?
Well, there is another difference maker on the docket in Buffalo defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, the type of powerful, athletic player who can give undersized Philadelphia center Jason Kelce fits.
Meanwhile Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin have been the NFL's worst guard duo in pass protection this season so it's going to take a sound game plan to deal with a player like Dareus.
973espn.com prediction: Like sands through the hourglass, so are the Days of Our Lives. Forgive the soap opera shtick but it's clear that the McCoy-Murray nonsense has overwhelmed what is a very important game. Unfortunately the inconsistency of the Eagles shows up here against the more talented team. Expect Buffalo to win a close one. Bills 24, Eagles 20
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @JFMcMullen.