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Eagles' run game to be tested in Tampa

Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (no relation to LeSean) and the Bucs' defense will be a challenge for the Eagles' rushing attack.

Eagles running back LeSean McCoy. (Kathy Willens/AP)
Eagles running back LeSean McCoy. (Kathy Willens/AP)Read more

LeSEAN McCOY still leads the NFL in rushing, which is quite a thing, given that he ran seven times in the second half of Sunday's victory at the New York Giants and gained minus-4 yards.

The Giants made an adjustment up front against one of the Eagles' favorite running plays, and though the Eagles won, 36-21, thanks to three fourth-quarter Eli Manning interceptions, McCoy finished his day with 46 yards on 20 carries. His yards-per-carry went from a season average of 6.0, which is just ridiculously good for a guy who gets about 20 carries a game, down to a very strong but less stunning 5.2.

This is noteworthy, 4 days after the fact, because the Eagles visit the Tampa Bay Bucs this weekend. Most likely, the Birds' quarterback will be Nick Foles, making his seventh NFL start, his first this season, and very much in need of a running game to take the pressure off his passing, against one of the league's top secondaries. There's a slim chance the QB will be Michael Vick, who can hardly be 100 percent a week after suffering a left hamstring strain against the Giants. He, too, presumably would benefit greatly from McCoy being the most dangerous player on the field again.

You can be certain the Bucs noticed the tricks the Giants employed to mess up the Birds' blocking scheme. Also, New York entered that game just 28th in the league against the rush. Tampa is ninth, with an extremely disruptive Pro Bowl defensive tackle, Gerald McCoy, the third player taken in the 2010 draft.

"He's got a lot of things in his arsenal," said Eagles right guard Todd Herremans, who probably will split the duty of blocking McCoy with left guard Evan Mathis, depending on where McCoy lines up, with center Jason Kelce called in to help from time to time. (And yes, the Eagles' running back and the key Tampa run defender have the same last name, that's going to be an annoying thing to keep track of for the rest of the story. Sorry.) "He's very athletic. Strong, too. And he's really good with his hands. That presents quite a challenge. We have to have a hell of a game this week up front, use sound technique and not fall into those traps."

Mathis said McCoy "is very savvy - he's football smart."

McCoy (the other one, the one who plays for the Eagles) said: "They're a fast group. They play well together. They run to the ball. They tackle well. I think they're a complete defense . . . They do tons of stunts to try to stop the run game . . . It's one of those matchups where you try to catch them in the right stunt, block 'em the right way, get the one-on-one opportunity with the safety. Hopefully, we can get that done."

It sure seemed Vick was keeping the Giants' defense honest with his seven first-half carries for 79 yards, and that McCoy's opportunities dried up when Foles came in. McCoy said he thought that was coincidental.

"In the second half, they really made some plays, and that was kind of when Mike went out. I don't think it had anything really to do with Foles. I think he's definitely a different threat . . . I think it changes, definitely, but we still run the same plays. I think we can still be successful running the ball."

As Kelce explained after Sunday's game, the Giants' main adjustment was stunting a tackle across Kelce's face, slanting him backside, messing with Kelce's blocking angle. Eagles coach Chip Kelly said yesterday that the problem arose because "we were 'manning' that look, not zoning that look."

"They're a great run team," Kelce said yesterday of Tampa Bay. "They do a lot of blitzes and a lot of slanting and angling to try and break up the zone plays. The biggest thing you can do against a team that's doing a lot of slanting and angling and stuff like that is to really just trust your area and your zone . . . make sure you're aware of what's going on, the situation, the alignment of guys . . . you can't get caught up too much in blocking 'man.' These guys really do mix it up a lot . . . they cross people around. When teams are doing that, you have to trust that as long as you stay on course, as long as it's like a full moving wall, that the holes are eventually going to open up."

McCoy (the running back, not the defensive tackle) said stunting usually involves going to where a defender thinks the back is going to be, which works less well if the back cuts back and goes somewhere else. "There's going to be different cutback lanes . . . that's kind of my game," he said.

"I was surprised" to see the Giants' penetration Sunday, McCoy said. "They just made some plays. This whole year, I haven't really been hit in the backfield at all . . . they were making so many plays, so quick. I think as a defense, when you game-plan to stop the run, you're going to make some plays."

Mathis was asked if he expects the Bucs to try what the Giants did.

"I would think so, if it's stopping one of the plays that we run the most, you would have to expect to see it again." he said.

Kelly noted Tampa's front is different from the Giants'.

"Last week's defensive line [featured] some real big bodies inside that are extremely tough to move. It's a different animal this week," Kelly said. "Gerald McCoy may be the best defensive player in the league. He's explosive, dynamic, he can run. They've got athletic ability on the defensive line, they're not as big as some of the teams we've played, but they're faster than teams we've played."