NFC 'Easter

November 26, 2009 9:42 AM

Rookie LeSean McCoy and running game key to Eagles stretch run

McCoy scores.jpg

If there is any kind of silver lining to Eagles running back Brian Westbrook recovering from the concussion he sustained against the San Diego Chargers, rookie running back LeSean McCoy is getting the opportunity to show what he can do in the running game.

In the Eagles 24-20 win over the Chicago Bears, McCoy scored the winning touchdown and gained 99 yards on 20 carries in a game where the Birds ran the ball almost as much as they passed it. While McCoy is still young and needs to learn how to be a blocker in the Eagles pass-first offense, he is proving his worth as a solid running back.

One example of this was in last Sunday's game against the Bears. Early in the fourth quarter, McCoy fumbled the ball to the Bears after a 17-yard gain. On the Birds next possession, McCoy got the ball on the first play of the possession and gained four yards. He capped the drive with the 10-yard touchdown run after a potentially game-changing fumble. Eagles gave him the ball again because they see the upside of his ability.

With the injuries to Westbrook, McCoy leads the team in rushing with 452 yards on 106 carries. He is averaging 4.3 yards per carry. He has three touchdowns including a 66-yard run in the Eagles win over the New York Giants. At 5-feet-11, 198 pounds, McCoy is solid and compact enough to be the kind of back that pound opposing defenses late in the game.

For Eagles fans who have been clamoring for head coach Andy Reid to run the ball enough to keep teams from teeing off on the quarterback Donovan McNabb, McCoy certainly has the potential to be the type of running back that can defenses honest.

The problem over the years for the Eagles has been Reid's penchant for being too pass happy and getting away from the running game. In a loss to the San Diego Chargers back in week 10, the Eagles passed the ball 56 times and ran it just 13 times.

At this time last season, the Eagles went through a stretch of games where they went overboard in the passing game. In a tie with the Cincinnati Bengals last season, McNabb threw the ball 58 times while the team ran the ball 18 times. The next week in Baltimore, the Eagles lost and McNabb was benched.

The key to the Eagles run to the playoffs last season was when Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg decided to run the football as much as they passed it. When the Birds balanced out their offense, they went on their run to make the playoffs and ultimately the NFC Championship game.

What the Eagles ought to do at this point in the season is to let McCoy run the football, especially late in the game if the Eagles have the lead. Even if or when Westbrook is cleared to play, McCoy should get more carries in the running game.

At this stage of his career and given how injury-prone he has been for the last couple of years, Westbrook, if he returns, should be utilized more in the passing game, coming out of the backfield on third and long. He has never been the type of back that you give him the ball 20 to 25 games per game. McCoy should be the work horse back for this team in the same way the Dallas Cowboys use Marion Barber.

If you learned anything from watching the Eagles last year is that when the Eagles have a good balance between running the ball and throwing it, McNabb played much better. In the one game the Eagles lost down the stretch of last season-a 10-3 loss to the Washington Redskins-they passed the ball 46 times and ran it 16 times.

The Eagles push for a division title and a playoff berth will depend upon whether or not Reid can get out of the way himself and keep the Eagles balanced on offense. If they can do that down the final stretch of the season, they will be back in the playoffs. With the way things are going in the NFC East, they could win another division title.

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