He may be the NFL’s leading rusher 10 weeks into the 2013 season, but Philadelphia Eagles back LeSean McCoy went a long time between dominant performances. Prior to piling up 155 yards against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, McCoy had passed the century mark just once over the previous six games.
The dry spell culminated one week earlier in Oakland with a season-low 44 yards on the ground, also McCoy’s third-consecutive game being held under 4.0 yards per carry. The All-Pro ran for more yards in 60 minutes at Lambeau Field than he did over the previous three games combined. What accounts for such a dramatic turnaround?
Everyone knows defenses can only keep Shady bottled up for so long. Honestly, a big part of the reason why McCoy was finally able to snap out of his funk and find some running room is how he ran it. He was decisive and hit holes hard. He made one move instead of three. Credit the ball-carrier for making some adjustments.
It also helps having a quarterback who’s spinning the ball so well. For awhile, defenses were fine with putting all the focus on shutting down McCoy given all of Philadelphia’s issues under center. Now all of a sudden Nick Foles is connecting on the deep pass at an alarming rate, which forces the defense to back off a little.
Otherwise, the Eagles didn’t do a whole lot different schematically. Chip Kelly tweaked his formula, but there was still a heavy dose of read-option. We’re going to pick out some subtle differences from the game the head coach called against the Packers compared to some of those in the past month.
For starters, it’s important to show defenses something different from time to time. The Eagles did something in the first half against the Packers that they really had not done all season—they had the quarterback line up under center and hand off on a few good old-fashioned stretches and dives.
In all, Philadelphia called five runs for McCoy where Foles was under center instead of the traditional shotgun, plays that were good for 25 yards. The offense never lined up that way again in the second half, not even when it was killing the final nine minutes and 32 seconds of clock, but it was there.
Was it consistently more effective than the typical read-option look? Not really. Shady was dropped in the backfield twice, and his long gain of 20 yards almost went for a loss as well. It was essentially a new look for the offense though, so hopefully the lack of success the first time out doesn’t discourage the coaches.
It was also good to see Foles keep a few times on the read-option as he is wont to do. No, he’s not the fleetest of foot, but the Eagles have to keep the defense honest, otherwise the free defender will just ignore the quarterback. If the space is there, and Foles has the option, why not?
Chip once joked that if he had Foles run the read-option 20 times, he should be fired. Twenty would be excessive, but if defenses aren’t going to respect it and are willing to concede free yards, Foles might be able to get away with keeping it a little more often than he does.
The biggest, yet maybe most subtle difference in the game plan against Green Bay was the number of inside zone reads to outside zone reads. Against Dallas and New York in Weeks 7 and 8—two of McCoy’s more abysmal outings—Chip called for inside handoffs at a 2:1 ratio. This week it was closer to 3:1.
What that means is the back spent a lot more time running north-south rather than east-west.
On an outside zone read, McCoy is running laterally when he accepts the handoff. Once he gets to the perimeter, he gets to pick his next move. If the back can find a lane, he’ll cut the play to the inside, or he can try to reach the edge. The problem is it can be slow-developing and often results in minimal gains.
The Eagles called five outside zone reads for McCoy against the Packers for 33 yards—a healthy 6.6 average. However, the numbers are propped up by one 30-yard gain. The other attempts went for four, one, minus-three, and one. If the defense can get penetration, it forces the back to stay in the backfield longer. In the above still frame, McCoy is outside the hash marks trying to swing around a defender, and he still hasn't made it back to the line of scrimmage.
The inside zone read may not have the same big-play capability, but it keeps the chains moving. McCoy is already moving toward the line of scrimmage when he takes the handoff, so he hits the point of attack much faster and with a lot more momentum. And when he has momentum in open space, look out. This poor defensive lineman has no chance at even laying a finger on No. 25.
McCoy had 14 inside zone-read carries for 96 yards—a 6.8 average. Not surprisingly, those plays were a lot more consistent too. For instance, not one of them resulted in a negative play, and a majority went for four or more yards.
Sometimes it’s the simple stuff. There’s a lot of speed in the NFL, so trying to get to the outside can prove difficult. Running straight ahead may not always produce the sexy, big play, but when everything is clicking, it will result in chunks of yards. A little more downhill running certainly seemed to help McCoy find his groove again.