Eagles' offensive line paves way for McCoy, and protects Foles

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER LeSean McCoy , who rushed for 116 yards, avoids Buccaneers' Dashon Goldson during third quarter.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER LeSean McCoy , who rushed for 116 yards, avoids Buccaneers' Dashon Goldson during third quarter.
Posted: October 15, 2013

TAMPA - Last week against the Giants, LeSean McCoy rushed for 48 yards on 12 carries with Michael Vick and minus-2 yards on eight carries without him.

A lot of people did the math and erroneously concluded that when you removed the read-option threat of Vick from the equation and replaced him with a considerably more stationary object (Nick Foles), the Eagles' ground game isn't nearly as effective.

Eagles center Jason Kelce tried to convince folks all week that the problem with the run in the second half last week wasn't the horsepower change in quarterback, but his own problems in dealing with the angling and slanting of the Giants' big defensive tackles, who continually foiled the offense's most effective run play, the inside zone.

Yesterday, again without Vick, the Eagles proved the validity of Kelce's argument as McCoy and the Eagles rushed for 138 yards in a 31-20 win over the Bucs, whose defense was ranked ninth in the league against the run entering the game.

"Leading up to the season, everybody was saying, 'Well, Mike's definitely going to be the [starting] quarterback because he's the only one who can run [the read option],' " Kelce said.

"But there are other ways you can read the defense and other things you can get to. You notice we threw a lot more bubble [screens] today. If the quarterback isn't as dangerous a [running] threat, if we have numbers outside, we'll probably take that a little more than trying to run the quarterback.

"Is that the way it's going to be all the time when Nick is in there? Who knows? But I think there's so many different things [we can do], and Chip [Kelly] and [offensive coordinator] Pat [Shurmur] are both great at designing reads based on personnel as far as who you want to get the ball and getting the ball to guys who can make plays for you."

McCoy notched his third 100-yard game of the season, rushing for 116 yards on 25 carries. He also had 55 yards on a pair of screens, including a 44-yard catch-and-run on the Eagles' first offensive play that kick-started their first first-possession touchdown drive of the season.

"We watched the tape and corrected the errors," said McCoy, who leads the league in rushing and is on a 1,680-yard rushing pace at the moment.

"We knew they were going to try and take the run away. They did a lot of stunts. They're a very fast and aggressive defense. But the linemen up front just made the right calls and blocked well. And give a lot of credit to coach Kelly. He made a lot of good calls."

Kelce said the switch from Vick, who was averaging 9.3 yards per carry before he pulled up lame last week with a hamstring injury, to Foles, has had little impact on the Eagles' offense as far as play-calling.

"We called similar plays [against the Bucs] to the ones we called with Mike in the game," he said. "We changed it up a little bit. We did a lot more [runs] over tackle. Unbalanced line sets, especially towards the end there.

"But there were still plays where we had reads and were leaving the end unblocked or were leaving the linebacker unblocked on purpose, so that Nick could read that. That's not going to change for us, no matter who the quarterback is."

The Eagles have used unbalanced line sets on occasion this season, moving one of their tackles to the other side. But they gave the Bucs a heavy dose of it in the fourth quarter. Left tackle Jason Peters lined up on the right side next to rookie right tackle Lane Johnson several times. And Johnson also lined up on the left side with Peters.

Kelly usually would put his two tight ends - Brent Celek and Zach Ertz - on the side opposite Peters and Johnson.

The strategy was particularly effective on the Eagles' final scoring drive when they ate up 5 1/2 minutes of the clock after taking a 28-20 lead. Alex Henery ended up kicking a 24-yard field goal with 2:34 left to seal the win.

"We've run it a lot," Kelly said of the unbalanced line set. "It creates some different matchup problems as far as how they're going to deploy themselves. Jason Peters at the tight end, are you going to put a defensive end on him or how are you going to time up all of your blitzes and things like that? It's really a credit to Jason when you have somebody that versatile that you don't miss anything from an athleticism standpoint [when you move him to tight end], but you get such a great push at the point of attack."

The Eagles' offensive line, which had underachieved in the first five games, turned in one of its best overall performances of the season against the Bucs. They not only led the way for McCoy, but also did a pretty good job of protecting Foles, who was sacked just once, threw three touchdown passes and completed 71 percent of his attempts.

Nobody was happier about the improvement than Kelce.

"I feel a lot better this week than I did last week at this time," he said. "Bottom line, as an offensive line, we adjusted much better this game than we did the last game.

"First of all, we were much more prepared for the slanting and angling because this team has shown that a lot on film. And then, with how much, personally, I got beat by it last week, this week all of a sudden we were a lot more prepared for it.

"We had worked on it a lot. We knew that teams were going to try and do that because that's kind of been our Achilles' heel with a lot of teams. It was something that, as the game went on, we kept adjusting, kept doing things well.

"And then, the last drive, we milked the clock and did exactly what we needed to do. It would've been better if we had scored a touchdown. But we took some time off the clock."

Said right guard Todd Herremans: "We knew Tampa was going to run a lot of slants and things up front to try to stifle the run. I think we made some good coaching adjustments to it. We were able to put body on body and let Shady do his magic."

The Eagles are 12-3 when McCoy rushes for 100 yards, including 2-1 this season. He rushed for a season-high 158 yards on 20 carries in their 26-16, Week 3 loss to the still-undefeated Chiefs. So you can see why it's important that he gets his yards.

"We called a little more run [plays]," Kelly said when asked what was the the biggest difference in the rushing attack yesterday and the week before against the Giants. "We were facing an entirely different defense. The four-down [linemen] defense that the Bucs play with Tampa 2 [coverage] behind it is a lot different than what the other guys [Giants] played.

"They also didn't have two 300 x-amount defensive tackles inside. They're a little bit smaller, faster defense. That was probably a little bit better matchup for us."

Even Foles got into the rushing act, scoring the Eagles' first touchdown on a 4-yard quarterback draw.

"That's the best and the most fluid the offense has played since Washington," Kelce said. "I felt we were doing a good job of using tempo. I felt we were constantly making the ref move from the ball. That's one of the top signs that you're doing a good job of tempo if you're waiting there for the ref to spot the ball."

On Twitter: @Pdomo

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