Training camp in July led into the preseason and then 11 straight weeks of practice, game-planning and top-level competition. Chip Kelly’s guys were clearly ready to leave the NovaCare Complex behind for six days and get some free time before they reconvene in preparation for the final five games.
Perhaps no one was more excited to get a break than LeSean McCoy. And for good reason. The Eagles’ running back leads the NFL in carries (213), rushing yards (1,009) and total yards from scrimmage (1,408). Among tailbacks, only Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles has played more snaps, per Pro Football Focus.
While the numbers for McCoy are impressive, this has been a challenging year. He had a four-game stretch where he averaged only 3.4 YPC. Kelly challenged him to dance less and hit the hole more. At times, he was not on the same page as the offensive linemen.
But last week against the Redskins, McCoy was not only the best player on the Eagles’ offense, but his effort in doing the little things jumped off the tape.
The final numbers show McCoy carried 20 times for 77 yards. On the surface, that’s 3.9 YPC, nothing to write home about. But what those numbers don’t show is that on 12 of his 20 carries, McCoy had to break or avoid a tackle at or behind the line of scrimmage. He still picked up 47 yards on those plays.
Additionally, he’s made great strides as a receiver and a blocker.
On the first play here, we were lucky enough to once again get Kelly’s [faux] commentary. Here’s the pre-snap look.
"And they said I couldn’t run the zone read with St. Nick back there. Ha! Like I’m afraid of Reed Doughty making a play on Shady in the backfield…"
"Yo, Celek! I’ve been telling anyone who will listen all year that you’re the best tight end this franchise has seen since Jeff Thomason, and now you do me like this and let Orakpo blow up my favorite run play? Don’t make me put Casey in there! Only kidding… we all know that ain’t happening!"
"There you go, Shady. Forget what I said about line get us 2, back get us 2. You get it all! You’re not gonna let Doughty take you down, are you?"
"I didn't think so! A 4-yard gain… just as I drew it up. Wait a minute… is Folesey really trying to throw a block? What the &^%* are you doing? That’s it! You’re not spending any more time with Vick this week! Now line up and move! We gotta go here! C'mon ref!"
On a serious note, I wonder if we’ll see Kelly make some adjustments to the run game during the bye week. That may seem silly to think about, given that it’s the top-performing unit in the league, but McCoy has been stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage 24 times this year, per STATS, Inc. That’s second-most in the league behind only Marshawn Lynch. The number could be a lot higher too if he weren’t so elusive.
Against Washington, he was stuffed five times. McCoy is still averaging 4.7 yards-per-carry, but it’s no secret that Kelly wants to maximize the explosiveness of the run game. Given that the bye week is all about self-scouting, we could see some tweaks in the next couple games to make McCoy’s job a little easier.
As we know, playing tailback is about more than just running the ball. On the Eagles’ first drive, they faked the handoff to McCoy and then went deep to Riley Cooper.
But Nick Foles would not have had a clean pocket if McCoy hadn't executed his blocking assignment perfectly.
After the fake, McCoy is going to be responsible for Doughty, who is playing up in the box.
He stones him in the hole.
And most importantly, makes sure he finishes, helping to give Foles a clean pocket with which to throw the ball.
I mentioned effort earlier as well. That’s something that probably doesn’t get talked about enough with McCoy.
On this second-quarter play, he’s running his route down the right sideline, but the pass goes to DeSean Jackson on a shallow crosser.
McCoy sees that, and instead of just continuing downfield, comes back to make a block, picking off DeAngelo Hall.
It's a good sign when teammates know the most talented players are doing everything in their power to help the offense be successful.
We already wrote about McCoy as a receiver earlier this week, but I hadn’t realized just how explosive he’s been until I looked up the numbers.
He’s caught 34 balls for 399 yards on the season. What’s most impressive is that McCoy is averaging 11.74 yards per reception. The last running back who caught 30 balls and averaged a higher number for an entire season was Marshall Faulk. In 1999, he averaged 12.05 yards per catch with the Rams.
Oftentimes, we probably make too big of a deal about which running backs are good receivers. So much of it is scheme and opportunity. McCoy averaged 6.9 yards per catch last year and 6.6 in 2011. But Kelly has done a great job of creating mismatches for him, and McCoy has taken advantage this year.
It’s not all screens either. Part of McCoy’s success has to do with how he’s moved around before the snap. For example, in the third quarter, he started in the backfield, but Foles motioned him out wide.
The Redskins were in man coverage, but no one motioned with McCoy. That made for an easy decision and an easy throw for Foles.
I asked Foles this week how much freedom he has to motion guys when he sees potentially advantageous mismatches at the line of scrimmage.
"I have a lot of freedom," he said. "I have freedom any time there is, and if they’re not gonna cover a guy, you want to get that guy the ball no matter what the play is. So where there is a motion or anything and the defense for some reason doesn’t see it, or maybe they’re in between checks, you want to get that guy the ball because that’s a big play waiting to happen."
McCoy picked up a nice 7-yard gain in the red zone on this play.