After watching every other team in the division lose on Sunday, the New Orleans Saints were able to escape at home on Monday Night Football over the Houston Texans, 30-28. It was a hard-fought battle, showing at least some of the hard work the Saints put into themselves this offseason paid off as they begin their Super-Bowl-or-bust season with an intense win. Lost in the nail-biting home win was the debut of quite a few new and important faces for the team. There were some on offense (starting rookie center Erik McCoy, veteran starting tight end Jared Cook) and defense (Malcom Brown had a great debut filling in for starter David Onyemata). However, none of those players had more question marks surrounding them and their role on the team than new backup runningback Latavius Murray.
Murray comes over to the Saints after two seasons in Minnesota, who signed him after he began his career in Oakland. He looks to replace Mark Ingram, who was confirmed to be leaving the Saints just hours before the team went in a different direction: signing Murray. His 4-year/$14 million deal indicates the Saints want Murray to backup Kamara during most of his prime seasons. That makes his role extremely important, and we finally got a legitimate glimpse at that this past Monday. The biggest question around Murray involved his treatment compared to his predecessor. Would the Saints use him the same way they did Ingram, or would they want Murray to be more of a prototype, true backup to Kamara to keep the offense more consistent with play calling? The answer after Week 1: both.
Stats: 18 snaps (27% of total offensive plays), 6 carries, 43 yards (7.2 yards per carry), 1 TD
2 catches (3 targets), 4 yards
Total: 8 touches, 47 yards (5.9 yards per touch), 1 TD
The most glaring difference: amount of touches. Ingram averaged over 15 touches per game during his last four seasons in New Orleans. That includes two years of starting most games for the Saints, but Ingram has had to share touches his entire career. Murray’s 8 total touches signal Kamara, who had 20 total touches on Monday (13 rushes, 7 catches), has the only set of keys to this offense and its backfield. Which is what everyone should come to expect, and what everyone should be perfectly fine with. Kamara showed off his agility, durability, and football IQ on Monday, but Murray looked pretty great as RB2.
The similarities with Ingram begin with runs to the inside, which is what led to Murray’s touchdown on the night. He was able to find a tight hole in the offensive line and weave his way to the end zone, much like Ingram did and still does. Murray showed a bit more speed, being able to outrun multiple Texans on his way to 6. Outside of that TD run, Murray had 5 carries for 12 yards (2.4 YPC), which is not promising whatsoever. The good news is that the Saints don’t need Murray to be explosive every play; one or two 30-yard rushes per game, especially if it leads to points, would help this Saints offense more than enough. New Orleans looked to use Murray in the screen game, much like they did with Ingram, on top of running inside to get a power-back feeling going.
However, we have seen Kamara do just about everything in this offense. His role, and specific plays, have changed and expanded since his emergence in 2017. They’ve only increased with the departure of Ingram, and Murray seems to be more of a prototype backup just by default. Kamara can rush inside, outside, avoid contact, bulldoze right through it, catch screens out of the backfield, lineup as receiver and catch passes down the sideline. Murray is going to just need to work his magic while Kamara takes his breaks during games, and it seems the limited action will continue as long as Kamara is healthy.
One game is a tiny sample size, so this article is not going to draw any conclusions. Weeks 6-9 will truly tell us how the Saints plan to use Murray, and how successful that plan will be. After Monday, though, a lot more confidence should be put into Murray’s game, both for the Saints and his fantasy owners. Look out for the former UCF Golden Knight to help this hopeful Super Bowl team consistently out of the backfield, if everything goes smooth.