Zone Read: Eagles-Giants, the Day After

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA Today

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA Today

This was a different version of LeSean McCoy.

Standing at the podium dressed in dark jeans and a black vest, this looked like the tailback who led the NFL in rushing a year ago. The guy who made defenders look silly, juking, shaking and breaking ankles when he touched the ball. The player who was capable of routinely picking up chunks of yardage, no matter the opponent.

It was two weeks ago that the other McCoy showed up, standing by his locker at Levi’s Stadium after a loss to the 49ers and requesting that reporters ask him about any topic besides the Eagles’ stagnant running game. He was frustrated. He had put in more offseason work than ever before. He had talked big about 2,000 yards and being the league’s top back. And because of a variety of circumstances – most out of his control – he wasn’t producing results.

That changed Sunday night when McCoy piled up 149 yards on 22 carries as the Eagles shut out the Giants 27-0 and improved to 5-1 on the season.

Asked about observers questioning whether he still had it, McCoy answered: “I like it like that because you really know who’s really behind you. And for people to really criticize myself and the running game, we were 4-1 coming into the game. Now we’re 5-1. I never lost confidence in myself or the guys up front. You guys did, or the people out there did. So I don’t mind it. I got thick skin. I’m here to play ball.”

That may be true, but McCoy felt the need to get something else off his chest.

“The thing that really blows me away is if we weren’t that good as a running team, then why does every team come in here stacking the box?” he asked rhetorically. “But that’s for you guys to talk about and write about and the radios and all that, I don’t mind at all. I got thick skin.”

There were a number of factors that contributed to the run game kicking into gear. Chip Kelly and the coaching staff came up with a smart game plan. The Eagles had the same offensive line start and finish consecutive games for the first time all season. The Giants didn’t stack the box as much other teams. And McCoy showed the make-you-miss ability that has become his calling card.

Going in, the Eagles knew the Giants had size up front, so they wanted to push tempo and tire them out – especially early. The two go-to-work plays Sunday night were the split zone and the sweep.

“Surprisingly, they kind of played a lot of two-high and they left the safety out the box, which was different,” McCoy said. “I mean, they paid for it. Then when they tried to move the safety down, it was too late. Guys were in their groove, hitting running lanes. Chip did a great job today too of calling the plays. He got me so many one-on-one opportunities to make plays. And guys up front just blew ‘em off the ball the whole entire game. Sitting back there deep, looking as the plays were developing, just seeing how the guys up front were blocking, as a running back, you feel good, you start hitting your groove. And now you can start picking them apart.

“I feel like I made a lot better decisions, just going, just hitting it. If there’s gonna be a hole or there’s not gonna be a hole, I’m just gonna take the most I can get. And there’s some plays where I feel like I left some plays out there. In the open field, that’s what I do best. And tonight they kind of got me more than I would like.”

Early on, the Eagles hit on some inside runs, but they did so with Nick Foles under center, not in shotgun. A year ago, the Giants limited McCoy to 94 yards on 35 runs in two games, using a nut stunt to thwart the Eagles’ go-to play, the inside zone. Defenses this year had gotten a bead on when the Eagles were running that play, based on formation and pre-snap alignment.

Against St. Louis, Kelly added some changeups. He had the backs line up in the Pistol or had them switch from one side to the other right before the snap. Sunday was an extension of that. With Foles under center and the back directly behind him, the Giants had a tougher time diagnosing run plays before the snap.

“They couldn’t do that [nut stunt] because they didn’t know which way we were going,” said center David Molk. “Back’s neutral, so it made it hard for them to pull the trigger on it because if they’re wrong, they’re really wrong.”

Once the Eagles got the inside game going, they shifted to the sweep. McCoy’s 28-yard run and Darren Sproles’ 15-yard TD in the third quarter both came on sweeps.

“It was the looks,” said Kelly. “Sometimes they were down inside, and sometimes if you run the ball the other way, it’s really tough to cut them off. So we kind of play an inside-outside game with them.”

And everything he dialed up seemed to work.

“We were just a step ahead,” said Molk. “We had the right move when they made the wrong move.”

Since Kelly arrived, this has been a spread-to-run operation. But in recent weeks, the Eagles had trouble getting McCoy going. That was part of the reason why the passing game looked out of sorts. The offense had managed just two touchdowns in its previous 22 drives entering Sunday night.

But with the run game clicking, there’s a sense that this team is closer to regaining its identity.

“When the running game’s going, that’s what kind of makes the offense because now you can go over top, get the play-actions,” McCoy said. “The safeties are so conscious of the run when you’re gashing ‘em. That’s the first thing they think about. And then once that happens, you leave the corners one-on-one with so much space out there to make plays, and that’s how we really play. Once we get the running game going, then we have so many passes that come off the run with different options, like tonight.”

With Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis targeting Week 10 to return and the Eagles now having added new wrinkles to the run game, chances are the McCoy we’ll see the rest of the season will look a lot like the 2013 version.