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As McCoy goes, so go the Eagles

Running back LeSean McCoy will have to have a productive game if the Birds are to to beat the Cowboys.

LeSean McCoy gained a season-high 159 yards the first time the Eagles met the Cowboys. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
LeSean McCoy gained a season-high 159 yards the first time the Eagles met the Cowboys. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read moreYONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

HERE'S THE difference between DeMarco Murray and LeSean McCoy as far as their value to their teams is concerned: Murray, who leads the NFL in rushing by the length of almost four football fields, can be held to just 50 yards Sunday night by Fletcher Cox & Company and the Cowboys still can win the game.

If McCoy is held to 50 yards, well, you'll likely be reading the Eagles' playoff obituary on Monday morning.

Say what you want about Tony Romo, but if he has to put the Cowboys on his aching back Sunday night and lead them to victory, he can.

You can't say that about Mark Sanchez. He can be a competent quarterback when he doesn't throw interceptions. Proved that in the first game against the Cowboys 2 weeks ago when he completed 20 of 29 passes.

But he needs McCoy and the Eagles' offensive line to lead the charge. McCoy is the straw that stirs the Eagles' offensive drink. The guy who drives their car, floats their boat, flies their plane, carries their Super Bowl hopes.

The Eagles have been held to 110 rushing yards or less six times this season. It's no coincidence that they've lost four of those games. The other two were against Washington and Carolina, which doesn't count because they're Washington and Carolina.

The Eagles need to be able to run the ball to beat good football teams, and even mediocre ones. That includes the Cowboys.

McCoy rushed for a season-high 159 yards in the Eagles' 33-10 Thanksgiving Day win over Dallas. Last week, he was held to 50 yards on 17 carries in their 24-14 loss to Seattle.

"Everybody will say they just ran into a really good defense," NFL Network analyst and former Eagles and Cowboys offensive lineman Brian Baldinger said. "But every defense has weaknesses. Every defense gives up plays. When they're there, you have to take them.

"DeMarco Murray got his yards against Seattle when they played them up there [115 in a 30-23 Dallas win in Week 6]. And Seattle still had [defensive tackle] Brandon Mebane then.

"People are saying when you shut down Shady you shut down the offense. That's got to be like fingernails on a chalkboard to Chip Kelly. Because there were plays on the field Sunday that had to be made that they didn't make."

Some of the blame was on McCoy. Playing with a heavy heart after the death of a close cousin, he clearly wasn't focused last week. He didn't have a lot of big-play opportunities, but he had some, and often made poor decisions, including on a run early in the fourth quarter.

"He only gained a yard on the play," Baldinger said. "But if you look at the tape, he had the biggest hole he had all year. Seattle completely blew the front. He stepped into the hole, saw [safety] Earl Thomas still 8 yards away, and put his right foot in the ground and went left and tripped and fell.

"I looked at that play and I said, 'What am I seeing here? Does this guy really not want any part of Earl Thomas?' "

That was one of the plays that prompted Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner and some of his teammates to suggest this week that McCoy was afraid of getting hit by them.

I asked a couple of the Eagles' offensive linemen about that yesterday. They laughed.

"Shady has never been afraid of getting hit," one said. "His thing is he runs to daylight. It's one of the things that makes him great. But it's also one of the things that gets him into trouble, too.

"We'll have a play leveraged one way and he'll see something somewhere else, he'll see daylight, and go to it. But there won't be anything there. That's what happened a few times Sunday."

McCoy's offensive line didn't give him much help Sunday. It had trouble blocking both their inside and outside zone run plays against Seattle.

"For the most part, we've been making progress, but last week we took a step backward," center Jason Kelce said. "I think there are things we could've gotten to in the game that we could've done a lot better at. There definitely were opportunities to be successful that we didn't take advantage of.

"We ran a lot of outside plays where guys didn't move well in space, didn't block well in space. On some of the inside plays, guys weren't working correctly together."

The Eagles have one of the league's most athletic offensive lines. Tackles Jason Peters and Lane Johnson both are former tight ends. Kelce started his college career as a linebacker. Left guard Evan Mathis looks like a decathlete.

But when they've struggled this season, it's usually been because they haven't been able to knock people off the ball. Which begs the question, yes, they are athletic, but are they physical enough?

"If you watched Bobby Wagner Sunday, he made all those plays because they weren't getting to the second level [to block him]," Baldinger said. "They're getting stretched.

"You've got to be able to take that defensive tackle and knock him into the lap of the linebacker. They're not doing that right now. Their double-teams aren't shoulder-to-shoulder. They're not going north-south. Their pad level is too high.

"They're not taking guys off the ball and knocking them into the second-level linebackers' laps. Wagner, time and time, was unblocked a lot last week."

Mathis disagreed with any suggestion that the Eagles' offensive line isn't physical enough.

"The inside zone is what we hang our hat on," he said. "And that is literally the most physical play in football.

"If you only watch our inside zone plays all year, show me the finesse. Show me any kind of finesse on that play. That's smash-mouth football. I mean, what is finesse anyway? If finesse is athleticism, then yeah, we have that too."

Figuring the Eagles

* The Eagles have used "11" personnel formations (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers) on 66.8 percent of their offensive plays this season. That percentage is slightly lower than last year, when they used "11" on 71.9 percent of their plays. They have run the ball less out of that formation this season (35.8) than last year (42.1). A breakdown of their formations this season:


RB/TE/WR Plays Run Pass

1/ 1/ 3 615 220 395

1/ 2/ 2 274 157 117

2/ 1/ 2 19 6 13

1/ 3/ 1 7 6 1

2/ 3/ 0 3 3 0

2/ 0/ 3 2 0 2


RB/TE/WRMcCoy Sproles Polk

1/ 1/ 3 157-745 26-170 13-60

1/ 2/ 2 89-293 21-121 24-68

2/ 1/ 2 5-17 1-2 0-0

1/ 3/ 1 5-16 1-2 0-0

2/ 3/ 0 3-(-3) 0-0 0-0




1/ 1/ 3 99-159-1276 7-7 122-215-1391 9-8

1/ 2/ 2 19-29-202 3-0 58-88-671 3-2

2/ 1/ 2 3-7-22 0-0 4-5-84 0-0

1/ 3/ 1 0-0-0 0-0 1-1-26 1-0

2/ 3/ 0 0-0-0 0-0 0-0-0 0-0

2/ 0/ 3 0-0-0 0-0 1-2-(-9) 0-0

* The Eagles have scored 78 points on their first and second possessions this season. Opponents have scored 55. Sixty-eight of those 78 points have come in the last nine games.

* The Eagles are 16th in the league in first down rushing average (4.25) and 28th on second down (3.54). On defense, they are 15th on first down (4.12) and second on second down (3.19). Only the Lions have a better opponent rush average on second down (2.90).

* Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez have a collective 32.9 completion percentage on deep balls (20 yards or more). Sanchez has completed nine of 26 deep balls, Foles 19 of 59. They've combined for 10 TDs and eight interceptions. The Packers' Aaron Rodgers has the best TD-to-INT differential on deep balls - plus-11, with 11 TDs and no interceptions. He has a 51.0 completion percentage on throws of 20 yards or more. The only quarterback with a better deep-ball completion percentage is Houston's Ryan Fitzpatrick (52.6).

* The Eagles are 16-6 (.727) since Week 8 of last season. That's the fourth-best record in the league over the period. Arizona, Denver and New England all are 17-5 (.772). The Seahawks also are 16-6.

* The Eagles are 42-19 (.689) in December since 2000. That's the league's sixth-best record during that span. New England is first with a 52-9 (.852) record.

* The Eagles have blitzed on just 33.7 percent of their opponents' pass plays this season. Twenty-nine of their 44 sacks have come with a 3- or 4-man rush. A look at the Eagles' pass rush:

Pass Comp.

Plays Sacks Pct. TD Int.

Rush 3 49 2 72.3 4 1

Rush 4301 27 58.9 11 4

Rush 5 127 11 51.7 4 3

Rush 6 42 3 51.3 6 2

Rush 7 8 1 42.8 0 0

Rush 8 1 0 100.0 1 0

* The Eagles have given up just one TD pass to a tight end. And it wasn't even one of the better ones . It was the Colts' No. 3 tight end, Jack Doyle, who scored on a 2-yard pass from Andrew Luck in the Eagles' Week 2 win. Doyle has just 17 receptions in two NFL seasons. Opposing tight ends have just 46 catches against the Eagles and are averaging 13.9 yards per catch.

This and that

* The Eagles' signing of safety Jerome Couplin off of the Detroit Lions' practice squad got thumbs-ups from two league personnel people I spoke with. "I think he has a chance [to play]," one scout said. "He has very good size [6-1, 215] for his position. We felt he was an above-average special-teams player who has a chance to grow into a fourth, maybe even a third, safety in time." Said another scout: "It was a good poach from the Lions. He's not an elite special-teams guys, but he's functional. He won't get you beat. He'll do his assignment. And big DBs are a very attractive commodity right now."

* A couple of things have softened the blow of losing linebacker DeMeco Ryans. One has been the surprisingly decent play of his rotating replacements on first and second down, Casey Matthews and Emmanuel Acho. The other is Nolan Carroll. Carroll, a cornerback who had spent his entire career on the outside, has spent his first season with the Eagles as the team's dime linebacker. Last year, the Eagles used dime (six defensive backs) only a handful of times because of a lack of depth at both cornerback and safety. This year, they're using it nearly a quarter of the time. Carroll played just 30 snaps in the Eagles' first three games this season. But as his comfort level with the dime linebacker spot has grown, so have his snaps. "The more game experience I've gotten the more comfortable I've been out there," Carroll said. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis isn't just using dime on third and long. Against the Cowboys 2 weeks ago, he had Carroll in there on a couple of third-and-3s. With NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray on the other side of the line of scrimmage. "Unless it's third-and-1 or 2, or sometimes 3 [we'll use it]," Carroll said. "When we know they're absolutely going to run the ball, we're not going to call dime. But when it's an obvious passing situation, we'll call it." The Eagles have given up just one touchdown pass to an opposing tight end this season, and Carroll has been a big reason for that. He frequently has been responsible for covering the tight end, including the Dallas game. Jason Witten, the Cowboys' nine-time Pro Bowler, was targeted twice and had one catch for 8 yards. "If they switched off, sometimes I'd be on [slot receiver Cole] Beasley," Carroll said. "One time I was on [Dez] Bryant when he was in the slot. It depends on their personnel and what coverage we've called."

2-minute drill


* "As my father-in-law Merle Feuerborn says, 'It's always darkest before the dawn.' So, this could be the first minutes of our finest hour." — 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh on his struggling 7-6 team

* "We're not choirboys, I know that. You bring us up to a certain level of intensity to the game, your job is to go out there and physically, emotionally, mentally dominate the game. You don't do that at church on Sunday. You've got to go to the football field for that." — Patriots QB Tom Brady after getting caught on TV during a game using the F-word

* "It's almost exciting to think about all the room for improvement that we have." — Jets QB Geno Smith on his 2-11 team

* "I've never seen a quarterback play at this level. His numbers speak for themselves. But his command, his responsibility level is higher than it's ever been. His production, to me, is higher than it's ever been." — Packers coach Mike McCarthy on his QB, Aaron Rodgers

* "If you're going to get rid of a coach, you better have a succession plan going forward. I've been a part of a team that got rid of coaches and then didn't know who came next. If you're going to say, 'Hey, you know what? This guy's impossible and we're going to get someone else,' well, I don't know who you're going to get that's going to do a better job than Jim Harbaugh's done." — Fox Sports analyst Troy Aikman on rumors that the Niners coach could be fired after the season


* Bucs WR Mike Evans has 10 touchdown catches. That equals the fourth most by a rookie since 1970. The only three with more: the Vikings' Randy Moss (17 in 1998), the Chargers' John Jefferson (13 in 1978) and the Bucs' Mike Williams (11 in 2010).

* Giants rookie WR Odell Beckham Jr. has had 90-plus receiving yards in each of his last six games. He's the first rookie in league history to do that.

* The Cardinals improved to 7-0 at home with their 17-14 win over the Chiefs. Their seven home wins are the most by the team in a single season since 1925, when it won 11 of 13 home games. They played 13 of their 14 games at home that year.

* Peyton Manning's streak of 51 straight games with at least one TD pass ended last week in the Broncos' 24-17 win over the Bills. It was the third longest TD streak in history behind only Tom Brady (52) and Drew Brees (54).

* Thirty-seven teams have come back from 10-plus-point deficits to win this season. That equals the most through Week 14 in NFL history.

* There have been 687 touchdown passes thrown. That's the most through the first 14 weeks in league history. The previous high was 662 last year.

Going sledding

The Eagles' defensive linemen begin every practice the very same way: hitting the blocking sleds.

The Eagles have allowed just one running back to rush for more than 90 yards this season (the 49ers' Frank Gore, who had 119 in Week 4). They held Houston's Arian Foster to 56 yards, held NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray to 73 yards 2 weeks ago and held Marshawn Lynch to 86 yards on 23 carries last week.

To a man, the d-linemen believe their daily work on the sleds has been a big factor in their success against the run.

"It's helped everybody, including me," said Fletcher Cox, who had a team-high 11 tackles last week and made life generally miserable for the Seahawks' offensive linemen who tried to block him. "A lot of people [with other teams] don't hit the sled every day. But I love it, man.

"I take so much pride in hitting the sled, and I work it so much. The things we do on the sled [makes it] like second nature when we're in the game."

Cox was drafted by the Eagles in 2012 to be a three-technique tackle in a 4-3 scheme. He had 5.5 sacks as a rookie.

But the Eagles finished 4-12 and Andy Reid and his staff were fired and Chip Kelly was hired and he brought in Billy Davis to implement a two-gap 3-4 scheme.

Most of the Eagles' d-linemen, including Cox, had never played in a two-gap 3-4. But with the help of the sleds, they have developed into the defense's best unit.

"All of these guys have embraced the type of work they do during the course of the week," Mike Dawson, the team's assistant defensive line coach, said. "They spend a lot of time on the sled. They spend a lot of time working with their hands.

"They take a lot of pride in how they play with their hands and how they get their hands on guys who are trying to block them. It takes a lot of hard work, but these guys have embraced that. I don't think they would feel like they got the practice in if they didn't do the sled."

Cox and the team's defensive linemen didn't use the blocking sleds at all his rookie season. Their position coach, Jim Washburn, cared about just one thing: getting to the quarterback.

That changed last year. Defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro, who was on Kelly's staff at the University of Oregon, is big on sled work.

"Coming off a whole year of not hitting the sled and then coming back last year and hitting it was quite an adjustment," Cox said. "But now I enjoy it. All the guys enjoy it."

Said nose tackle Bennie Logan: "We're confident in the way we prepare. The way we drill on the sled. The way we drill against our offense. The way we study film and study our opponent."