A lot of eyebrows were raised when the New Orleans Saints signed veteran running back Latavius Murray to a four-year, $14 million contract in the 2019 off-season. Brought in to replace Mark Ingram, Murray has gone from strength to strength with the Saints, leading to a breakout performance in a 31-3 win over the Denver Broncos last week.
Latavius Murray Performance a Sign of Things To Come
A Solid but Unspectacular Career
A sixth-round pick for the Oakland Raiders in the 2013 draft, there were high hopes for Murray throughout his career in California. Injury wiped out his rookie year and in his sophomore campaign, Murray battled for playing time. Fan favorite Maurice Jones-Drew and former first-round pick Darren McFadden limited his touches.
However, both veterans left the team in 2015, and Murray ascended to the top of the Raiders depth chart. He rewarded the franchise with a 1,000-yard rushing season. The only 1,000-yard season of his career. Murray followed up his 2015 campaign with a career-high in touchdowns, 12, in 2016. Despite this success, his limitations as a player were clear to Oakland. He failed to reach the 1,000-yard mark and rarely broke off big runs. This was despite Oakland possessing one of the better offensive lines in the league at the time.
Murray made his playoff debut with the Raiders in 2016 but wasn’t offered a new contract that offseason. He signed with the Minnesota Vikings. In his first season with Minnesota, he enjoyed an 800-yard campaign, but in 2018 struggled for playing time behind Dalvin Cook. Once again, Murray hit free agency.
Latavius Murray Signing with the New Orleans Saints
The Saints front office faced a lot of criticism when they signed Murray in 2019. New Orleans allowed Mark Ingram to walk in free agency and many considered Murray a poor man’s version of their former first-round pick. The Saints Kamara and Ingram backfield, known affectionately as Boom and Zoom, had historic statistical success. Murray had big shoes to fill.
However, Murray offered a similar complementary style to Alvin Kamara. His 2019 statistical output was unspectacular, but he had no interest in becoming the next Ingram. A hard-nosed, physical between the tackles runner, Murray earned praise for finding extra yards. His style means he is rarely knocked backwards.
Spelling Kamara in 2019, Murray only rushed for 637 yards. However, he had his highest average yards per carry since 2014 and showed promise to be a good fit for the Saints team.
Latavius Murray’s Breakout Performance
Against Denver, Latavius Murray had possibly his best game as a pro. He showed top-end speed in the second level that many experts assumed he no longer had. His stat line, 124 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns, doesn’t show how Murray’s bruising style wore down Broncos tacklers over four quarters. He earned the breakaway runs, including a 36-yard touchdown scamper.
Murray now looks at home as a complement to Kamara in the Saints backfield. Building on his 2019 season, his average yards per carry has increased again to 4.6 yards in 2020. With five games to go, he is well on pace to break last seasons yardage mark.
The Saints are enjoying an eight-game winning streak. Murray’s value to the offense is clear, especially in an offense that relies on ball control and efficiency. In fact, the rushing attack as a whole is vital to the Saints success now and in the coming months.
New Orleans Saints Rushing Attack Crucial Moving Forward
The Saints rushing attack as a whole is one of the most potent in the league, particularly when Taysom Hill is in the lineup at quarterback. New Orleans lead the league in rushing touchdowns with 19.
In the team’s Wildcard round loss to the Vikings, New Orleans passed twice as much as they ran the ball, despite averaging 5.7 yards on the ground in the game. Against Denver, Sean Payton’s team had 44 rushing attempts, and still averaged 5.2 yards a carry.
Drew Brees is out another few weeks with broken ribs. This is the perfect time for New Orleans to work on their ground game. The balance of the offense will be crucial in December and January. Moreover, last seasons playoff loss showed Brees is no longer built to throw the ball 35-40 times a game. New Orleans cannot win against elite defenses that way anymore.
Brees will return to the lineup at some point. But the Saints showed last Sunday they are capable of playing tough. Saints fans will hope Sunday was a sign of things to come, especially if it means lifting a Lombardi trophy in February.
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