MIAMI - If you were only to look at LeSean McCoy's raw rushing numbers in yesterday's 26-10 win over the Dolphins - a meager 38 yards on 27 carries - you obviously wouldn't be very impressed.
Thirteen of his 27 rushing attempts went for zero or negative yards. His 1.4 yards-per-carry average was the second lowest of his young career.
Yet, in another way, this was one of his most impressive performances of the season. He notched two rushing touchdowns to bring his season total to 14, just one shy of Steven Van Buren's franchise record.
And he continued to establish himself as not just one of the league's best running backs, but also one of its best short-yardage backs despite his relatively small stature (5-10, 205 pounds).
McCoy converted five of six situations of 2 yards or less into either first downs or touchdowns in the win. In the Eagles' last eight games, he has converted 24 of 30 situations of 2 yards or less. For the season, he is 33-for-46.
"He's a tough kid," Eagles coach Andy Reid said of McCoy. "He was getting upset because he had a couple of runs for losses. But he battles. He gets your hard downs for you. Hard yards. I'm proud of him."
McCoy went into the game leading the league in rushing first downs with 71. The closest guy to him was Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew, who had 54.
"When people think of good short-yardage runners, they think of big, powerful backs," said center Jason Kelce. "Bruisers. But Shady, when he needs to, knows how to hit the hole hard."
Because of his speed and lateral quickness and ability to make people miss, McCoy frequently has been likened to Hall-of-Famer Barry Sanders. But he's a much tougher runner. Frequently kept out of the Eagles' goal-line package as a rookie and even part of last year, he's now the go-to weapon inside the 5 when Reid and Marty Mornhinweg have the good sense to run it and not pass it, which still isn't often enough.
But they gave it to him there yesterday. They gave it to him on a first-and-goal at the 1 early in the second quarter with the Dolphins up 7-0. And when he lost a yard on the play, they gave it to him again and he powered his way into the end zone to tie the game.
On the Eagles' next possession, after a first-and-goal pass play from the one failed, they wisely gave it to McCoy again. He sliced through for another score behind several nice blocks, including one by left tackle Jason Peters.
Later in the second quarter, he picked up a first down on a second-and-1 at the Eagles' 36 that kept alive a drive that resulted in another Eagles touchdown when Michael Vick completed a 34-yard scoring pass to DeSean Jackson.
The popular early season thinking was that offensive line coach Howard Mudd's preference for smaller, more athletic linemen was not going to bode well for the Eagles in short-yardage situations. And when Kelce, a rookie who tips the scales at just 280 pounds, got blown up on a goal-line play in September, everybody said, "See, I told you so."
Thirteen weeks into this disappointing season, their short-yardage ground game has turned out to be the least of the Eagles' problems.
"We've been in the upper middle [in the league] in short-yardage the whole year," Mornhinweg said. "Our line's doing a terrific job there. We had a couple of missed assignments on a few early in the year. But other than that, I've been really pleased with short-yardage and goal line."
Despite gaining just 38 yards against the Dolphins, McCoy has 1,172 rushing yards and is on pace for 1,442, which would be the second most in franchise history to Wilbert Montgomery's 1,512 in '79.
"I really haven't taken time to sit down and think about the things I've done this year," McCoy said. "It's been a tough season, and with us still fighting to make the playoffs, I haven't had a chance to think about things that have happened. But the [Van Buren's touchdown record and Montgomery's yardage record] would be something that would be good to have. To get [Van Buren's] record would be awesome."
McCoy gained 20 yards on his first two carries yesterday, then was held to just 18 on his next 25 carries. While the Dolphins came into the game with the same 4-8 record as the Eagles, they were ranked fifth in the league against the run.
"They did a real good job today," McCoy said. "I was surprised that they focused on the run. They closed a lot of the [running] lanes and got penetration. I was very happy we were able to convert on short-yardage and get those two touchdowns."
McCoy converted just nine of 16 short-yardage situations (2 yards or less) in the Eagles' first five games. But over the last eight games, he has been money.
"A lot of people will say Shady's a flashy back," left guard Evan Mathis said. "But look at his success in short-yardage. He can pound the rock. He's not just a quick-hitter. He's a tough, hard-nosed back who's willing to put his head down and run through somebody."
"He's not going to try and juke everybody," said right tackle Todd Herremans. "If he sees a hole and knows there's only a couple of yards to get, he's going to put his shoulders down and get that. That's one aspect of his game that a lot of people sleep on."
Peters has played a major role in McCoy's rushing success this season, particularly in short-yardage. Like McCoy, the left tackle is having the best season of his career.
"You just have to man up in those [short-yardage] situations and beat the guy across from you," Peters said. "As long as I can get into the guy and make him take his eyes out of the backfield and focus on me, I know that [McCoy] will find a crease and hit it."