Eagles' McCoy being compared to Sanders

A big chunk of the 185 yards LeSean McCoy gained against the Cowboys came from improvisation. (Michael Bryant/Staff Photographer)
A big chunk of the 185 yards LeSean McCoy gained against the Cowboys came from improvisation. (Michael Bryant/Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 01, 2011

WHEN IT started, it was once a game. LeSean McCoy would stop in full stride, shift his body a foot or 2, then resume full speed as if someone hit the play button on their Tivo.

"Barry Sanders," an announcer would say, and the usual disclaimers would follow.

Too young. Too soon. You're talking about one of the greatest running backs of all time, ranked first by NFL.com as the most elusive ever.

But man, Shady McCoy sure does remind you of . . .

Especially on a night like Sunday, when a big chunk of the 185 yards he gained against the Cowboys came off improvisation, off his very, very Barry-like ability to make the first man miss. On a night when, by unofficial count, "Barry" was uttered at least four times. And on a night when the immediate disclaimers were not nearly as fervent.

"I don't think anybody should be compared to Barry Sanders at this stage," Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said yesterday. "Barry was pretty unique and LeSean is still kind of making a name for himself. And so that's way too early."

OK, OK, we'll leave out the name and just stick with descriptions. "It doesn't matter where the play is blocked," Sports Illustrated once wrote about Sanders. "He'll find his own soft spot . . . The scheme doesn't matter with Sanders. He can run from any alignment. While other people are stuck with joints, he seems to have ball bearings in his legs that give him a mechanical advantage . . . Sanders' finest runs often occur when he takes the handoff and, with a couple of moves, turns the line of scrimmage into a broken field . . . Nobody has ever created such turmoil at the point of attack as Sanders has . . . Knock on wood, he seems indestructible . . . "

Hmm. Sure sounds like that 11-yard run Shady busted outside in Sunday's 34-7 victory over Dallas, the one on which Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff seemed to freeze in place inches from McCoy, the one on which Sean Lee seemed in slow motion as he tried to keep McCoy from gaining the edge.

That's not the way the play was designed, of course, a trait of McCoy's - and that other guy's - that has irked coaches in the past. Clearly though, he is receiving more latitude in that area as more and more of his improvisations turn into the kind of downfield sprints that punctuated the victory over Dallas, and the previous victory over the Washington Redskins as well.

"It backfires on you on occasion when you do that," Mornhinweg said. "Really, it's very similar to [what we tell] the quarterback. Stay with the play, do the right thing, and then let your natural ability take over. He's doing a great job at that."

McCoy has also benefited from two things, one old, one new. Teams must take into account the legs of Michael Vick. And teams are just not prepared for the other emerging story of this suddenly promising season - the speed and athleticism of Howard Mudd's gelling offensive line.

"Because of Howard we changed just a little bit aiming points and your initial read," Mornhinweg said. It also tends to create a ball of confusion at the point of attack, buying McCoy just enough time to use those ball bearings of his to pivot, downshift, and change lanes like a NASCAR driver.

It is getting to that point now. LeSean McCoy doesn't just make defenders look silly. He's making his coaches sound that way, too.

"He's going full speed, boom-boom, he puts it down," Andy Reid said during his day-after press conference.

Yes, that Andy Reid. Boom-boom? From a man not given to superlatives, or onomatopoeia or even inflexion in his voice. A man so publicly dry that he refuses to refer to the National Football League by its all too familiar acronym?

Boom-boom? Really?

What's next?

Whoosh? Whammo?

Boing?

But that's the kind of effect McCoy's having on people, be they coaches or fans. Trying to explain how McCoy sometimes seems to alter the laws of physics, Reid also said, "He plays low and drives his belly button closer to the ground [which] gives him better support and so on. So that's how he's able to stop and go a different direction."

McCoy carried the ball 30 times and caught two passes. Reid chuckled when asked whether he was worried about overuse, saying, "I take him out and he runs back on. It makes me mad. I have to snatch him back off the field."

He's only 23 still, said the head coach. "Remember that. And he's the one doing all of the jumping around in the locker room afterward."

So, no, the boom-boom will continue. At 3-4, the Eagles are in no position to ration their assets. Not that they could if they wanted to.

"I mean, he's riding a bike with 1:30 left in the game," Reid said. "He's got this phenomenal energy and he loves to play."


Send email to donnels@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

www.philly.com/SamDonnellon.

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