Latavius Murray was signed as a second running back under the assumption that Alvin Kamara was going to be the man going forward. Murray was never signed to replace Mark Ingram’s production, but he was brought on to produce some stats and spell the New Orleans Saints’ star RB Kamara now and then.
Circumstances, however, changed. Kamara played most of last season “at 75 percent,” according to him, and Murray ended up with back-to-back 100-plus yard games in the two games Kamara missed.
After those two games, Murray just kind of... Disappeared. He had a few decent games peppered in, but he only got 10-plus carries two more times the rest of the season.
The Saints have good problems on offense, not least of which is that there aren’t enough touches to go around. But last season down the stretch they reverted to the Saints of old. Their 41.1 run percentage last year was the lowest since 2016. The current iteration of the Saints succeeds through balance, which they lost along the way last year.
Sean Payton is a coach who isn’t afraid to push the envelope or step out of his comfort zone, but for whatever reason he didn’t appear comfortable getting Murray more involved. Murray did everything he could with his two best opportunities to keep getting touches. This season, that should be acknowledged, unless he struggles or Ty Montgomery manages to break out.
With a star like Kamara, how do you find that balance? Here are a few options.
Get Murray involved in the passing game
Murray had a total of 34 receptions last year, far underneath the totals of Ingram with the Saints. From 2015-2017, Ingram had 50, 46 and 58 receptions, respectively. In 2018, the number dropped drastically to 21. Again, this isn’t about replicating Ingram’s production. But somewhere in the 40-45 range would be a good number for Murray.
Murray may not be particularly strong in the passing game, but part of the Saints offense is contingent upon respecting running backs catching passes out of the backfield. If he has to be force-fed targets, he won’t get snaps. But running backs need to have pass-run be an option when they line up in the backfield.
Split Kamara out again
The versatility of Kamara cannot possibly be understated. He’s arguably just as dangerous split out as he is beside the quarterback.
Exhibit B (timestamp-1:33 into video):
If the Saints can get back to that style for Kamara, their offense immediately becomes more dangerous. A split out Kamara is a threat. A split out Kamara with a viable running option in the backfield is a nightmare.
GIVE MURRAY TOUCHES
No player is going to do anything if he isn’t getting carries. Murray is no exception. He rushed for over 100 yards in the two games he got 20-plus carries on, and while this isn’t to say that Murray needs over 20 carries a game, putting him between 10 and 15 will wear defenses down and open things up later in the game for the Saints.
Drew Brees is one of the best quarterbacks off of play action in the NFL, so give him something to make the fake viable. Let Murray grind out some garbage yards and then air it out later.
Stop using the passing game as an extension of the running game
This was a staple of the early-mid 2010s Saints, and it’s a big reason for their ups and downs in that span. The Saints loved using swing passes to get players open in space, and while that was great then, quick-hitting routes are being sniffed out more and quickly in the current NFL.
In the late 2010s, the Saints went to a grindier style of offense, relying on their running backs to get tough yards between the tackles. they had the luxury with one of the toughest offensive lines in the NFL, and that line has only gotten more cohesion over time. Patience is the name of the game, but the Saints have time to test that patience with their line.
Use the fullback
Zach Line’s retirement in January left a void for the Saints that will hopefully be replaced by Michael Burton. While fullback is a dying position for many, Murray is a very upright runner. That means that he needs someone to pave the way to give him space and let him use his vision to get downhill.
Murray is at his best when going off-tackle. So if the Saints pair a viable lead blocker with Terron Armstead or Ryan Ramczyk and a pulling (slimmed down) Andrus Peat, Cesar Ruiz, Erik McCoy or really whomever, Murray will find the space that he needs.
Getting Murray involved does so much for the Saints offense. It lets Kamara play different places on the field, it lends legitimacy to play action, and it makes motion in the Saints’ motion-heavy offense even more dangerous. While Murray isn’t THE key in making all of this work, he is a big piece.
Payton is one of football’s most adaptable coaches, and there’s no doubt he’s looked long and hard at what Murray has to offer after last year. While these are some of the ways he can contribute, they are far from the end-all-be-all.
Ultimately, it boils down to “treat Murray like a Saints running back.” None of these thoughts are new to Saints fans, they’re things Payton has done with everyone, whether it’s Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory, Khiry Robinson or Ingram and Kamara. The ones who can hack it stay, and the ones who can’t adapt to it walk.
This season will likely determine whether Murray plays his four-year deal with the Saints or not, but one thing is for certain: It’s the most important season to the Saints, as their Super Bowl window with their current core continues to shrink.