McCoy Trying To Grind It Out

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Philadelphia Eagles

If you were to close your eyes and conjure up an image of the 2013 LeSean McCoy, chances are he’s on the loose. Maybe he’s bounding over a hapless Detroit defender and prancing through the snow while the rest of the mere mortals spin their wheels. Whatever it is, he’s probably slashing and gliding and on the attack.

Do the same exercise for this year’s version, and you might see defenders swarming into the backfield as No. 25 tries to flee this way and that before being swallowed up by the wave.

It’s been a grind for the reigning rushing champ, and that grind has gotten to him at times. The smile and loose demeanor that he sported so regularly last year has shown itself less frequently through the first nine games of 2014. There have been periods of frustration. According to sources close to McCoy, he is not happy with the number of touches he has received of late. Against the Cardinals, the pass-run ratio was slanted 62-26 in favor of the pass. On Monday versus the Panthers, he had 12 carries for 19 yards.

McCoy took the podium Thursday and again fielded question after question about the dip in ground game production. To his credit, he continues to place the team above himself in his responses.

“I think the individual goals and achievements are always second. We’re winning games and being a successful team so that’s all that really matters at the end of the day,” he said. “I mean sure, I would like it different. I think every player would like it different. But the main focus and the main thing that matters the most is that we’re winning.”

Stopping the ground game was the primary objective of opposing defenses last year, but this season McCoy says he is getting “a lot more attention.” Teams are routinely crowding the line of scrimmage to try and take him out of the game.

“It differs,” said Darren Sproles of the looks he gets compared to McCoy, “because with me they think more pass when I’m in the game. When he’s in the game they think more run. When he’s in the game they have everybody in the box trying to stop him.”

Has Sproles ever seen a back get this much attention?

“No. That’s crazy,” he said. “But if they’re doing that, that opens the pass up.”

“Everyone loves him being on this team,” added Zach Ertz. “He’s one of the key cogs of this offense. Whether he’s in there or not, teams have to prepare for him each week. You saw what he did last year, you saw what he did against the Giants when they didn’t necessarily stack the box against us. If teams aren’t going to stack the box we’re going to give it to him 25, 30 times.”

McCoy is averaging 19 carries per game. As Chip Kelly has mentioned on several occasions, he has more carries (173) than he had last year (168) through nine games (though it should be noted that the Eagles have run 40 more plays through nine games compared to last season). It’s the results that are different. He was averaging 4.6 yards per carry at this point last year versus 3.7 this season. His fourth-quarter production (6.0 YPC in ’13, 2.7 YPC so far in ’14) in particular is down.

McCoy prides himself on being one of the elite rushers in this league. Despite what may be said publicly, he cares very much about numbers. There’s reason to believe the numbers will come. He has experienced an overall bump in production since Lane Johnson returned to the lineup and should get even more creases now that Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis are back in the fold. And if Mark Sanchez and the passing game can continue to be effective, defenses will have no choice but to back off some. The key for McCoy is to keep his head in it and focus on the bigger picture.

“The bottom line is, are we winning football games? And when winning football games, you have to understand that there are certain things that maybe aren’t going to go your way,” said Kelly. “There are days where we’re going to have to run a lot, there are going to be days where we have to throw it a lot. I think we have a team of really unselfish players. When [people] see you they ask you what your record is. And your record is 7-2. And that’s the thing that I think all of us are the most proud of right now. Whether we have individual accolades at different positions, sometimes that just happens. You can be on a team where you lead the league in rushing but you finish 1-15, I don’t think anyone is happy about that.”

“It doesn’t really matter how I feel about it,” added McCoy. “We’re trying to win games and get to the ultimate goal that we play this game for, and that’s the Super Bowl.”