Back in 1994 Jimmy Johnson was fresh off being the Cowboys coach. He was new to broadcasting and an interesting guy. He made my jaw hit the floor one day when he explained that he would take Emmitt Smith over Barry Sanders. Say what?
Johnson then showed video of Sanders on a long TD run. As he was on the way downfield, Sanders inexplicably drifted toward the left sideline. By the end of the run, he was only a couple of yards away. Jimmy joked that if the field was any longer, Sanders would have run out of bounds. Emmitt wasn’t nearly as dynamic, but he was a more controlled runner. There were no wasted motions or steps. He “trusted the play”, as the saying goes in football circles. You run where the play is designed to go. That way everyone knows how to block for you. When you freelance and take chances, the blockers are clueless since the runner is behind them initially.
I don’t think anyone would dispute that LeSean McCoy is a great runner. He regularly makes our jaws hit the floor with his explosive lateral cuts and great juke moves. Tackling him can be about as easy as eating soup with a fork.
While McCoy is a great RB, I do wonder if he’s always the right player for some situations.
Late in games, you want to move the chains and work the clock. This is situational football. You must play to the situation. Shady has a hard time letting go of his instincts to go for big plays. He’ll see a defender in the backfield and cut left or right. He’ll then try to get outside. Suddenly no gain or a short loss gets worse.
Running the ball into a stacked box is tough. If you do it with a N-S runner who has some pop, he’s going to get stuffed plenty of times. He won’t have the wiggle to make guys miss. But he can wear down defenders. He can break some arm tackles since he runs hard and with power rather than trying to be elusive and light on his feet. That runner can break a big play vs a stacked box if he hits the right spot and there is a bit of a hole. We can all remember Emmitt Smith doing this. The Eagles might have limited him to 21 carries for 73 yards. Then he’d break off a 39-yard run late in the game and suddenly he’s 22-112. That used to drive me nuts.
Remember Marion Barber? He was a terrific “closer”. Barber ran with violence and power. He was very hard to tackle. Dallas would use other runners initially, but Barber would be the 4th quarter guy and he was a huge pain in the butt.
The Eagles ran the ball really well vs the Packers in the 4th quarter. They struggled the last 2 weeks and were inconsistent in games vs the Giants and Raiders. The running game stagnated in the season opener when the team had a big lead over the Skins.
I’m certainly not blaming McCoy for all the struggles. Chip Kelly is using a formula that isn’t favorable. He is spreading out the defense with 3 WRs and then trying to run against 7 and 8-man fronts. 5 OL and a TE aren’t going to win that battle very often. Defenses are daring the Eagles to throw the ball. I do think the problem is compounded by McCoy’s style.
I’d love for Kelly to try and mix things up. Bryce Brown has the size and strength to be effective. Chris Polk was very good at this type of running while he was in college. I think part of Kelly’s hesitation is that Brown had major fumbling issues last year. Polk had some fumbling problems this summer. Kelly also seems to like sticking with his star RB. I’m assuming this is Kelly’s choice and not that of Duce Staley.
McCoy can be a downhill runner when he wants to. You saw him attack the hole on the 4th/2 run late in the 1st half on Sunday. That was perfect. That’s what you’d like to see more of. Shady does have the NFL record for 50-yard runs in the 4th quarter, but that’s part of the problem. The Eagles don’t need big plays when protecting a lead. Just move the chains and keep the clock rolling. Shady’s instinct is to go for the big play. That means moving laterally and trying to get outside. Running wide against a stacked box is a losing proposition.
The Saints normally do a great job of mixing up RB duties so that everyone does something they’re good at. I love the fact Sean Payton is very situational with his runners. He maximizes their output by doing that. When you have a great RB like Shady, you need to feed him the ball. Giving his touches away wouldn’t be smart…for most of the game. I do wonder if mixing in the backups late would be something to try.
I hope the Eagles have leads in upcoming games so we can see what adjustments Kelly makes, whether to the lineup or the playcalling.
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Just how critical is Shady to the Eagles success on the ground? This is an interesting question. Kelly had all sorts of productive runners while at Oregon and New Hampshire. I tend to think Kelly would get production from the run game no matter what. McCoy averages 4.7 yards per rush. A lesser RB would be closer to 4.0. He also wouldn’t be near the top of the league in rushing yards.
McCoy is a special player, but RB is the most replaceable position. The Eagles went from Herschel Walker to Ricky Watters to Charlie Garner to Duce Staley to Brian Westbrook to Shady. That’s 20 years of really good RB play. There were also guys like Heath Sherman, Correll Buckhalter, Dorsey Levens and Leonard Weaver mixed in.
The Eagles saw last year just how explosive Bryce Brown could be when he was getting fed the ball. He has yet to really get going as a runner this year, but Kelly is right that a lot of that is due to Shady’s healthy. I will admit that one of my few disappointments with Kelly is how he’s used the RB corps. I hoped this would finally be the year when all 3 RBs got regular touches. That simply hasn’t happened.
We’ll see what happens down the stretch.
At some point, you have to play the backups. Either you believe in them in enough to have them on the roster or you are wasting roster spots.