Inside the Eagles: Eagles in no rush to let McCoy carry them

LeSean McCoy, the NFL's leading rusher, finished with just 10 carries for 31 yards on Sunday.
LeSean McCoy, the NFL's leading rusher, finished with just 10 carries for 31 yards on Sunday. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 29, 2011

There once was a tailback named McCoy,

Who the Eagles don't often employ.

They fall in love with the pass,

Make their defense lose gas,

And accomplish nothing but annoy.

In the Eagles' four victories this season, LeSean McCoy has averaged 24 carries for 136.5 yards and a touchdown. In their seven losses, the running back averaged just 14.6 carries for 72 yards and a touchdown.

Statistics can be parsed in many ways, stretched to suit either side of an argument. But in this case, there is very little gray area. When McCoy and the ground game are significant parts of the Eagles offense, the team is more likely to win this season.

When they are not, well, the Eagles lose, and that old familiar refrain is recited by the Andy Reid-Marty Mornhinweg play-calling police:

The Eagles rely on the pass too often.

When the run isn't working early they abandon it.

When they get behind by even the smallest of margins they panic and chuck the football on nearly every down.

All three scenarios took place Sunday in the Eagles' essentially-season-ending 38-20 loss to the Patriots. In the end, McCoy - the NFL's leading rusher - finished with just 10 carries for 31 yards and a score. Quarterback Vince Young, meanwhile, dropped back to throw 54 times, a number partly embellished by New England's big lead.

To no surprise, the Eagles took to the skies immediately. New England entered last in the NFL in passing defense and was without a starting cornerback (Devin McCourty) and a starting safety (Patrick Chung).

Eight of the first 11 offensive plays were passes. Of those eight attempts, Young completed four for 130 yards, and the Eagles led, 10-0. So even after the Patriots trimmed the margin to three, the pass-pass-pass-punt play-calling on the Eagles' next series was understandable.

But that is where the logic ends. After the punt, the Patriots zoomed 61 yards in 1 minute, 33 seconds, scored a touchdown, and went ahead, 14-10, early in the second quarter. On the Eagles' ensuing drive, Mornhinweg had Young drop back and heave a bomb to DeSean Jackson.

Jackson was open, and if Young doesn't underthrow his receiver, perhaps no one is complaining. But he did, and the ball was intercepted, and you had wonder if the brain trust realized they had Young, in his second start with the Eagles, and not Michael Vick at the controls.

There had been speculation that a first-half spat between Mornhinweg and Jim Washburn had been because the defensive line coach was upset with the play-calling emphasis on the pass, and in particular with that call.

But Eagles sources said that wasn't case and that the tiff, which had the two men nearly coming to blows, started because Mornhinweg had bumped into Washburn. Still, it is fair to speculate that a confrontation such as that occurred because of a disconnect between the offense and defense.

After the interception, however, the Eagles defense held, and a missed field goal negated the turnover. The defense had been on the field for 11 of the previous 13 minutes, so Mornhinweg, likely because of that, called for two straight runs. McCoy was dropped for a 4-yard loss on first down, and Chad Hall gained just 2 yards on second down.

While the two handoffs were a step in the right direction, the fact that Hall took a carry away from McCoy was astounding. McCoy was not gassed. Mornhinweg and Reid wanted to use their little gimmick, even though Hall has spent most of the season on the practice squad.

Young tossed an incomplete pass on third down, the Eagles punted, and the Patriots responded with another quick touchdown. Down 11, the Eagles advanced to the New England 5 with four completed passes and two runs - one of which McCoy burst loose on for 22 yards.

But three straight passes were called, despite McCoy's nine red-zone rushing touchdowns, and the Eagles settled for a field goal. Later in the third quarter, McCoy was ignored on fourth and 1 on the New England 2.

The most egregious crime, though, was neglecting McCoy in the first half. In the Eagles' four victories, he has averaged 12 carries for 54.8 yards before the break. In the seven losses, he has averaged 7.3 carries for 31.6 yards.

The Patriots don't have a running back as dangerous as McCoy, but they ran the ball 15 times against 23 pass plays in the first half.

Last week, the Eagles employed a similar tactic even though McCoy gained only 53 yards on his first 22 carries.

But they led by seven late, and when he took his 23d handoff he put the game on ice with a 60-yard run.

It was poetic.

Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745, or @Jeff_McLane on Twitter.

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