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Paul Domowitch: Eagles' McCoy producing his own screen gems

ANDY REID spent seven seasons in Green Bay freezing his ample butt off and learning the West Coast offense from one of its master practitioners, Mike Holmgren.

LeSean McCoy leads all running backs in receptions and receiving yards.  (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
LeSean McCoy leads all running backs in receptions and receiving yards. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)Read more

ANDY REID spent seven seasons in Green Bay freezing his ample butt off and learning the West Coast offense from one of its master practitioners, Mike Holmgren.

The screen pass was a staple of Holmgren's offense in Green Bay, and when Big Red struck out on his own in 1999, he brought along both his ex-boss' offense and his fondness for the screen to Philadelphia.

Found the perfect screen receiver 3 years after he arrived here when he drafted versatile Brian Westbrook in the third round of the 2002 draft.

Found another one last year when he used a second-round pick on Pitt's LeSean McCoy.

Twelve games into his second pro season, the 5-10, 205-pound McCoy leads all NFL running backs in receptions (67) and receiving yards (534). A good many of those catches and yards have come on screens.

McCoy had a team-high eight catches for 86 yards in the Eagles' 34-24 win over Houston last week. Three of those catches and 65 of those yards came on screens.

Took a screen from Michael Vick on the third play of the game and turned it into a 16-yard gain as the Eagles drove 88 yards for a touchdown.

Picked up 9 yards on a screen early in the fourth quarter that set up a 2-yard score by Vick. Then, on the second play of the Eagles' next possession, he used blocks by left guard Todd Herremans and fullback Owen Schmitt on yet another screen pass to gain 40 yards and set up the Eagles' final, game-clinching touchdown.

"LeSean's done a great job in the screen game," tight end Brent Celek said. "Any time he's one-on-one in the open field, he's making people miss. And we've got an athletic offensive line that can get down the field fast and get people off their feet."

Just as Reid learned the screen game from the master (Holmgren), so did McCoy. He caught 65 passes in his 2 years at Pitt and showed enough receiving skills to convince the Eagles' coach he was a good fit for his offense.

But they didn't run very many screens at Pitt. So, after he arrived in Philadelphia, he spent a lot of time in the film room with Westbrook, who, among other things, taught him the intricacies of the screen game.

"I watched a lot of tape with B-West," McCoy said. "He showed me how he set his blocks up. Probably the most memorable [screen] I watched was the one against the Vikings. The way he set that up, that was something."

McCoy is referring to Westbrook's memorable 71-yard touchdown catch-and-run in the Eagles' 26-14, wild-card win over the Vikings in the 2008 playoffs.

With the Eagles clinging to a 16-14 lead midway through the fourth quarter, a gimpy Westbrook, who was playing on a sore knee and ankle, took a screen pass from Donovan McNabb, maximized blocks by a half-dozen of his offensive teammates, and made it all the way to the end zone.

"Typically, we've been a pretty good screen team," said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who called that screen to Westbrook 2 years ago and called all three of those screens to McCoy against the Texans. "We work at it a lot in practice. We emphasize it. And I think our players are fit for it as well.

"Our line, they can get out and run and get bodies on people. And LeSean is pretty good at catching it and doing something with it. He's much better now on the screen stuff than he was when he first got here."

Herremans has been a big part of the Eagles' screen success. He's athletic and can get downfield quickly, though he says his job isn't all that difficult when you've got a back as good in space as McCoy.

"I put most of [the credit] on the backs," he said. "Our backs are great in space. You get out there in front of them and they've got space to work with, all you've got to really do is get in somebody's way."

Herremans said even when opposing defenses have suspected a screen was coming, they still have had difficulty stopping it.

"The funny thing is, they call it out before you even run it sometimes," he said. "And LeSean still will take it for a big gain."

Running back Jerome Harrison said the Eagles' speed at wide receiver and tight end with DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek and rookie Clay Harbor also has helped the screen game.

"They're getting down the field, which is pushing the secondary further back and giving us enough time to turn around [after we catch the ball] and see what's going on," he said.


* The Giants will be getting a key component of their offensive line back this week when left tackle David Diehl returns. Diehl has been out since Nov. 7 when he suffered hamstring and hip injuries while blocking on an extra point against Seattle. Diehl, who had a streak of 127 consecutive starts, has missed the last four games.

With Diehl back for Sunday's game against the Vikings, the Giants now have four of their five starting offensive linemen healthy again. The only one still out is center Shaun O'Hara (sprained foot). He's practicing on a limited basis and could return for next week's critical NFC East matchup against the Eagles.

"I had a good streak going, and for me personally, that's something that's always been motivation," Diehl told reporters this week. "It's something that I prided myself on and I would continue to push myself through things not only for myself, but the camaraderie. Not being able to be out there with not only my teammates and my friends, but we're like brothers. We go to battle for one another. We go out there and fight, and that was I think the toughest thing. Football is so much about accountability, and for me, it's always been about whether it's practice, whether it's whatever the situation is - practice, games - when things are on the line and things are tough, you want to be a guy that's known out there that no matter what is happening, you're going to be out there fighting. I was hoping that I'd have my whole career where I could do it and play every game. It was tough sitting out, watching."

* Since Wade Phillips was fired and Jason Garrett was promoted from offensive coordinator to interim head coach, the Cowboys have been running the football again. In their last four games, three of which they have won, they have averaged 34 carries and 148.7 rushing yards. In their first eight games, they averaged just 21 carries and 75.6 yards.

What happened to prompt Garrett to start using his talented stable of running backs more? They stopped falling behind, he said.

"The biggest thing with our running game is we've been closer in games," Garrett said. "Earlier in the season, we'd get behind two or three scores and have to score more quickly. Lately, the game has been more balanced and you can use the whole arsenal of your offense. We've been a physical running team in the past. We were among the best running teams in the league last year, and if we keep the games close or [get] ahead we can continue to do that."


From the lip:

* "Turnovers. They win when they create turnovers. It's gone another way when they've turned the ball over. That turnover ratio is the biggest statistic that correlates to winning." - Eagles offensive coordinator Mary Mornhinweg on the reason for the Cowboys' turnaround

* "Mario Lemieux told me I finally look like a hockey player." - Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, whose nose was broken Sunday in win over Ravens

* "We probably have one of the worst fields in the league. We did last year as well. We've got to deal with it, and our guys know it. They are aware of how to cut and how to move on it. So we've just got to go out there and play."- Bears QB Jay Cutler on the turf at Soldier Field

* "I don't think our team's results have been related to effort at all." - Panthers coach John Fox on his team's 1-11 record

* "I knew this was coming. [It was] impossible to predict when. Logic would have dictated it might have been in Year 3, perhaps even Year 4. But it came in Year 2. And it came pretty early in Year 2." - Chiefs owner Clark Hunt on his surprising team's 8-4 record.

By the numbers:

* In the last seven games, the Cowboys' defense has allowed 319.1 passing yards per game and 8.2 yards per attempt. The opponent completion percentage in those seven games is .709. Opponent passer rating: 100.6.

* The Eagles, who last year had the fourth lowest time-of-possession average in the league, have won 10 of 12 time-of-possession battles.

* The Eagles are 51-2 under Andy Reid, including 4-0 this season, when they've scored 30 points or more.

* Michael Vick has three 300-yard passing performances in his last four starts. That's one more than he had in 71 previous NFL starts.

* Over the last eight games, the Eagles have given up just 13 runs of 10 yards or more. They allowed 22 in the first four games. They've given up just 32 first downs in the last eight games, 33 in the first four.

* The Eagles' defense has been flagged 16 times this season for offsides/neutral-zone violations, including three times last week against the Texans. Trent Cole leads the way with five of them.

* When Giants RBs Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw each rushed for a pair of TDs vs. Washington, it was only the fourth time in franchise history that two players ran for at least two scores in the same game.


Thumbs Up:

To Eagles coach Andy Reid for that purpose pitch he tossed in the direction of the league's zebras regarding the beating that his quarterback, Michael Vick, is taking. Reid complained to the league office and also made a point of mentioning in both his news conference and again on his weekly radio show on WIP that it "bothers" him that defensive players are being allowed to take running-back shots at his quarterback. Not sure exactly what that means, since it's open season on Vick and any other quarterback once they start to run and before they slide, which Vick can't do. And Vick is running a lot - 48 times in the last five games. But Reid knows all this. He also knows he probably can kiss his Super Bowl chances goodbye if Vick gets hurt. He just wanted to plant a seed in the officials' minds for the future. If a hit on Vick draws a flag in the next few games, Reid's purpose pitch will have paid off.

Thumbs Down

To Jenn Sterger, who continues to milk this whole Brett Favre sexting investigation for every last drop of publicity she can get out of it. She waited for weeks to talk to the league about the pictures of his private parts that Favre allegedly sent her. Now, her representatives are publicly wondering why the investigation still hasn't been completed and why still Favre hasn't been suspended. "We provided extensive evidence that irrefutably proves there was harassment," said Sterger's manager, Phil Reese. "No matter what happens, Jenn has all legal remedies, including going public, if the NFL doesn't clear her name." Clear her name? The only reason people even know her name is because of the publicity she's gotten from this never-ending soap opera.


(Last Week's Rankings in Parentheses)

1. Patriots 10- 2 ( 3)

2. Saints 9- 3 ( 4)

3. Packers 8- 4 ( 5)

4. Steelers 9- 3 ( 6)

5. Ravens 8- 4 ( 1)

6. Jets 9- 3 ( 2)

7. Falcons 10- 2( 7)

8. Bears 9- 3 ( 8)

9. Eagles 8- 4 ( 9)

10. Giants 8- 4 (10)

11. Chiefs 8- 4 (12)

12. Rams 6- 6 (16)

13. Jaguars 7- 5 (18)

14. Bucs 7- 5 (14)

15. *Colts 6- 6 (13)

16. Browns 5- 7 (19)

17. Dolphins 6- 6 (15)

18. Cowboys 4- 8 (24)

19. Raiders 6- 6 (22)

20. Vikings 5- 7 (25)

21. Chargers 6- 6 (11)

22. Texans 5- 7 (17)

23. Seahawks 6- 6 (27)

24. *Titans 5- 7 (17)

25. 49ers 4- 8 (21)

26. Redskins 5- 7 (20)

27. Lions 2-10 (30)

28. Bengals 2-10 (29)

29. Broncos 3- 9 (28)

30. Bills 2-10 (26)

31. Cardinals 3- 9 (31)

32. Panthers 1-11 (32)

*Yesterday's game not included.