McCoy must come up big with smaller holes

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
5:00
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PHILADELPHIA -- LeSean McCoy is undeniably an excellent running back. So let’s make sure that is understood before we take a closer look at him and the Philadelphia Eagles' running game.

Early in the season, when McCoy was putting up epic numbers, it often looked like he was running through Fairmount Park. The combination of Chip Kelly’s spread formations, the performance of the offensive line and confusion on the part of defensive players was allowing for some truly enormous holes. That got McCoy out to the second level, where his speed and uncanny ability to change direction were lethal.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
AP Photo/G. Newman LowranceAfter a fast start to the season, LeSean McCoy has been held to fewer than 80 rushing yards in four of the past five games.
That’s not to say that just any back could have been as effective, but McCoy really seemed to benefit from the space being created.

That perception has been reinforced as McCoy explains his more recent struggles. Simply put: He has had to deal with the kind of space that other backs routinely work with, and he hasn’t adjusted.

“Things are bunched up,” McCoy said. “I have to give credit to certain defenses for making plays and being around the ball. It’s just crowded up. There aren’t too many lanes. I can maybe trust it a little bit more. It’s something I need to get better at.”

This didn’t happen in a vacuum. At the start of the season, defenses lined up looking to cover the eligible receivers and cut down on big plays. That created numbers advantages for the blockers in the run game, and McCoy ran wild for a few weeks.

When San Diego crowded the box and single-covered DeSean Jackson, the Eagles made big plays in the passing game.

But defenses adjusted, gradually finding a workable formula. Play man coverage on the receivers, with some deep help on Jackson. Challenge Riley Cooper and Jason Avant to beat their men. Have everyone else stack the middle and take away those huge running lanes.

It hasn’t helped the Eagles that some of their formations -- especially that unbalanced line Kelly likes to use -- almost always mean a run play. Defensive players have been able to sprint toward the ball and get to McCoy before he’s able to get into the secondary.

"In the last two weeks," Kelly said, "we haven't run the ball the way we've needed to run the ball. It's a combination of the backs hitting the hole when the hole is there, and the offensive linemen creating a little bit more movement at times.You can't just say 'it's just this.' If it's 'just this,' it would be an easy fix."

There won’t be any easy fixes in Oakland. The Raiders are the only team in the NFL that hasn’t allowed a single run of 20 yards or more. And until Eagles quarterback Nick Foles makes the Raiders pay for overplaying the run, they will be completely focused on McCoy.

“The main goal of teams is to stop the run,” McCoy said. “The passing game is secondary. So we’re seeing a lot of man. But I think with our offensive line, with play-action, we can get some plays going. Just because a defense comes to stop it, you have to adjust and make plays.”

That was easy earlier in the season, maybe too easy.

Phil Sheridan

ESPN Philadelphia Eagles reporter

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