Philadelphia Eagles: Knowshon Moreno

Eagles need depth behind RB McCoy

February, 18, 2014
2/18/14
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PHILADELPHIA -- You learn a little bit about what coaches are thinking by listening to them speak. You learn a lot more by watching what they do when the pressure is on.

All season, Eagles coach Chip Kelly had positive things to say about Bryce Brown and Chris Polk, his backup running backs. They were coming along. They would get some carries as Kelly sought to lighten the load on LeSean McCoy.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
Al Bello/Getty ImagesLeSean McCoy rushed for 1,607 yards and had 539 yards receiving last season.
When the Eagles played Dallas in the final game of the season with the NFC East title on the line, Brown got exactly two carries when McCoy desperately needed a blow late in the game. Polk had zero carries and one catch.

The next week, in the Eagles' playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints, neither Brown nor Polk touched the ball. No carries, no catches, no nothing.

That tells you that the Eagles, the team with the NFL's leading rusher and No. 1 overall running game, need an upgrade at the running back position.

McCoy, who is still just 25, is and will be the man. Part of the reality here is that it is just plain tough to take him out of a game. He's that good. But his career is going to be longer if the Eagles can find a way to lessen his workload.

McCoy carried the ball 314 times in 2013 and caught 52 passes for a total of 366 touches. That's more touches than anyone in football (Chicago's Matt Forte was close with 363 -- 289 rushes and 74 receptions). When you add pass blocking, that's a lot of contact.

But sheer volume isn't the only factor. There were several games in which the run game just wasn't clicking. The offensive linemen talked about not being “on the same page” with McCoy at times. McCoy himself admitted to being too fine at times and not just hitting the holes that were there.

That might be an opportune time to get another back a series or two. See if things start working better. Once the run game gets into a groove, McCoy just might slide right into it and produce as he normally does.

The two most notable of those not-on-the-same-page games were the touchdown-less losses to the Giants and Cowboys in consecutive weeks. Brown got a total of five carries in those games. Polk was inactive for one and had zero touches in the other.

With Matt Barkley forced to play quarterback because of injuries to Nick Foles and Michael Vick, the run game was needed even more. It produced even less.

Polk had surgery on his shoulder after the season, so it's possible he was limited by that injury in the second half of the season. Brown and Polk both got in on the snowy rout of Detroit in December, but neither made much of a mark otherwise.

So yes, the Eagles have arguably the best running back and the most productive running game in the NFL. But they are still very likely to look to upgrade the running back position during this offseason.

There are a number of backs available in free agency, including Minnesota's Toby Gerhart -- a player Kelly went out of his way to praise and who played for new Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave.

If Kelly is sentimental, he could look at New England's LeGarrette Blount, who played for Kelly at Oregon. If Kelly is feeling mischievous, he could bring in Denver's Knowshon Moreno, who was on the receiving end of some barbed comments from McCoy back in September.

More likely, the Eagles will keep an eye out for a back they like in the draft. Another Oregon product, De'Anthony Thomas, could be an interesting match. Thomas is just 5-9, 176 pounds, but has elite speed and could be the answer to the Eagles' need for a big-play return man as well.
PHILADELPHIA – Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, it must be noted, would not have to tackle Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson if the injured superstar were to play Sunday.

McCoy
With that established, McCoy said he’ll be disappointed if Peterson’s foot injury keeps him sidelined when the Eagles visit the Metrodome.

“When we saw them on the schedule,” McCoy said, “my eyes got big. I thought it was a chance to go one-on-one with one of the best backs. You always want to compete against one of the elite guys in the NFL.”

McCoy certainly considers himself among them. He is pretty matter-of-fact when discussing his abilities and his place in the hierarchy. It is why he caused a stir early in the season by tweeting an insult about Denver’s Knowshon Moreno, whose crime was being taken ahead of McCoy in the 2009 draft.

“I definitely think I’m in the top five [backs],” McCoy said. “Top three.”

Asked to name the rest of that top five, McCoy mentioned Peterson, Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles, San Francisco’s Frank Gore and Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch.

“There’s a lot of different guys,” McCoy said. “I like to give you a couple guys to think about, some elite guys. Arian Foster is in there, too, even though he’s banged up.”

McCoy said he valued consistency, versatility and longevity, but there was something else that was harder to define in identifying a great back.

“What makes you special?” McCoy said. “Guys that have great offensive lines, they’ll get yards. But what else do you do special? Is he a shifty back? Will he run you over? Can he catch, can he run routes? Is he a mismatch for defenders? What makes that guy special? All those guys I named, I can give two, three, four, five attributes that make them a special back.”

McCoy spoke from a bully pulpit. He is leading the NFL with 1,305 rushing yards, ahead of Peterson, and in total yards from scrimmage, ahead of Charles. In the latest ESPN.com MVP Watch, Dan Graziano had McCoy third behind only quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Charles, at No. 8, was the only other running back in Graziano’s top 10.

On Sunday, McCoy broke the Eagles’ 64-year-old franchise record for rushing yards in a game, topping Steve Van Buren 217 to 205. He is 207 yards away from Wilbert Montgomery’s 1979 record of 1,512 rushing yards in a season.

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