Sep 28, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterbackNick Foles
(9) with running backLeSean McCoy
(25) before a play against the San Francisco 49ers during the second quarter at Levi
LeSean McCoy: Philadelphia Running On Empty
One element of data is meaningless. Two elements of data is a line. But when the first four games of the Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy have netted a mere 192 yards on 70 carries, there is definitely a trend in NFL defenses.
In short, despite the 3-1 record of the Eagles, defenses come into the game with one goal in mind: Stop LeSean McCoy. In the off-season, the acquisition of Darren Sproles was hoped to be a nice “change-up” runner to the sure pounding legs and ankle breaking moves of “Shady”. Sproles could come in and throw the defense off, giving McCoy more room to romp.
But whether it has been the turnstile offensive line, which is starting its fourth set of linemen in its fifth game, or a reported injury to LeSean McCoy, it’s clear that the Eagles offense is out of gas in the running game.
This is new territory for the Philadelphia Eagles. And it’s not due to the lack of effort. Chip Kelly’s offense has proven it’s commitment to the running game in the past. But the 2014 season so far has the Eagles rushing the ball 38% of the time.
That smacks of Andy Reid.
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Nobody can argue that the running game has been effective. It hasn’t. In the history of LeSean McCoy wearing the Eagles uniform, the running game has never been so lethargic. But it feels as though its been a difficult problem to fix, so it’s been left to the “maybe it will turn around next week” category.
The Eagles teams of recent years have been pretty bad, but the running game has not been this ineffective since McCoy became the starting running back.
2009 was a similar year. In that year, the Eagles had numerous offensive line injuries. The projected starting offensive line was impressive on paper: LT Jason Peters, LG Todd Herremans, C Jamaal Jackson, RG Stacy Andrews, RT Shawn Andrews. But that year was a disaster. In that season, however, injuries to Peters, the Andrews brothers, and eventually Jackson, sealed the fate of the team as they fell in the only Cowboys playoff victory of Tony Romo‘s career. That has left a permanent scar on our recent history.
So it’s no wonder fans become jumpy when the offensive line injuries have returned, and the first casualty is the running game that we’ve come to expect. When you look at the impact of the lack of the running game, the passing game suffers. The defense suffers. And for all the offensive mastery of the Eagles, the chasm between the passing game and the running game is getting larger. When the passing game fails as it did against the San Francisco 49ers, the offense does not score.
The Eagles mad scientist of a head coach had a week to fix things. A week is not time to reinvent the offensive line, to rework the backfield, nor to sign free agents. The fix MUST come from within the Eagles roster, and it must happen quickly. Chip Kelly touched on the topic in a post-game interview following the San Francisco game:
"“We didn’t run the ball very well at all — that’s probably an understatement — all day long. Got the ball to the one and a half [yard-line], but just knew that from that distance, with the type of push we were getting inside, I just didn’t think we were going to be able to run the ball in from that distance.”"
A year ago, the NFL’s leading rusher. This year, inadequate to gain 1.5 yards for a touchdown on two plays.
A four tight end formation. The Eagles currently boast four tight ends on their active roster: Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, James Casey, and Trey Burton. While some would classify Casey and Burton as “offensive weapons”, there is no doubt that the plan and the rhetoric up to this point has consistently been creating mismatches on the defense.
If the Eagles could go five offensive linemen, four tight ends, a quarterback and running back, the offense is automatically set for both a running game and protection. Typically, this type of offense is at a disadvantage in the passing game, but with the likes of Celek, Casey, and Ertz, the Eagles should be able to scheme routes that free up a receiver.
“We didn’t run the ball very well– that’s probably an understatement — all day long.”-Chip Kelly
It’s pretty clear that the Eagles run game is not hitting on all cylinders right now. While the Eagles have face the 49ers, the Redskins, and even the Colts, the Jaguars are not especially tough to run against. Still, the Eagles struggled against all four teams. Some of this should be fixed by the return of Lane Johnson, but he’s been away from football for four weeks. It would be naive to presume he returns flawlessly. The Eagles are currently 3-1 but could easily fall to 3-3 with no effective running game. Unless McCoy shows up on Sunday, it may be too late. And with a player as productive and proud as our central Pennsylvania native, that would be a mistake.
Take off the training wheels Chip. Innovate. We need that. We deserve that. And we expect that.