|Sharon Ellman / Associated Press|
|With the game on the line last week, the Eagles called on LeSean McCoy to run past the Cowboys.|
It's easy to look at the Philadelphia Eagles' offense and only see Michael Vick throwing (when he isn't running) and DeSean Jackson catching and the ball moving from one end of the field to the other in a blink.
This is what we have come to expect from Andy Reid's pass-happy, quick-strike approach.
Then there is the unexpected, and largely underappreciated, aspect of what the Eagles do offensively.
"I think one of our strengths in general is run-blocking," center Mike McGlynn said. "We're a pass-first offense, and that's the way it's always been since Andy got here (in 1999). But I think we do a good job in the run game."
Yes, the Eagles do.
Lost in all of the hysteria over Vick's revival and reemergence as the most dynamic player in the NFL is that, in LeSean McCoy, they have one of the most highly effective running backs in the league.
With 972 yards, McCoy is on the verge of giving the Eagles their first 1,000-yard rusher since Brian Westbrook had 1,333 in 2007. McCoy's best game of the season came in Sunday night's 30-27 victory at Dallas when he rushed for 149 yards on 16 carries (giving him a staggering 9.3 yards per rush). One of his runs covered 56 yards.
"I think one of the dangerous things about him is when he gets in the open field, it's hard for a guy to tackle him one-on-one," said McGlynn, who was McCoy's teammate at the University of Pittsburgh. "He's got a lot of juice in his legs, and he can make you look dumb real quick in the open field. On that (56-yard) run he had up the middle, he had a guy who had him one-on-one, and he just put a stutter step to him and ran right by him."
As McCoy told reporters after the game, "Once we started rolling, we were rolling. We put the foot on the gas, man, and we kept pushing away."
Nowhere was that push more pronounced than when the Eagles, after taking over at their own 10-yard line while protecting a three-point lead, killed off the final 4:22 on the clock. McCoy had runs of 12, 19, 13, and six yards, the last converting a third-and-1 from the Dallas 31 at the two-minute warning to seal the outcome.
It was a statement-making series for an Eagles offensive line better known for giving the quarterback time to throw than for throwing down with an opponent. As McCoy embarked on what amounted to a 50-yard punch to the gut of the Cowboys' defense, the Eagles repeatedly ran the same play, a simple inside zone run.
"It had to be pretty demoralizing for them knowing that we're going to do this play over and over," McGlynn said. "It's just us versus them, and they know it and we know it. It gave us a lot of confidence to run that clock out the way we did."
Added guard Todd Herremans, "As an offensive line, you've just been waiting all game to just be able to come off on these guys who have been kind of firing off on you, trying to pass rush every play. And then, finally, you get put in a situation where you can run the clock out and give it back to them a little bit."
The dominance the Eagles showed on the ground against the Cowboys won't cause them to ponder, even for a second, a change in their offensive identity. They believe in being explosive, in taking deep shots, in scoring as quickly and as often as possible. They pass to set up the run, not the other way around.
Consequently, McCoy and his linemen understand that each running play must be viewed as a golden opportunity to gain and keep Reid's attention.
"We know that, when we run it, we have to capitalize on it because passing is what we do," McGlynn said. "So when we run it, we want to make sure that we're gaining five or six yards a pop so we give (the coaches) confidence in coming back to it."
McCoy's considerable development since his rookie season in 2009 has done plenty to win Reid's trust. After arriving in Philadelphia as a second-round draft pick, McCoy showed that he had plenty of promise but needed to do plenty of work to eventually supplant Westbrook as the Eagles' primary back.
Westbrook, now with the 49ers, set an extremely high standard for versatility as a runner, blocker and receiver out of the backfield. His tremendous intelligence and instincts were going to be hard for anyone to replace. But McCoy set forth to meet the challenge, and by his second year the Eagles were comfortable enough with his progress to say good-bye to Westbrook.
Among the ways McCoy has improved his game is through spending a great deal of time with Eagles offensive line coach Juan Castillo to, according to Reid, "make sure he knows exactly how we're blocking things and detailing that, which was a little bit of a muff last year with him. I mean there was just too much information to digest at one time."
"He puts in the time understanding the offense as a whole, not just what the running back's supposed to do," Herremans said. "And that really carries over to his play because besides knowing what he has to do, he knows what we're doing and he can make a read and his cut a lot quicker. With some backs, you'll get back there and you'll call a running play and you won't have any idea of where they're taking it. But with LeSean, it's getting to the point where, depending on how the defense falls into it, we know where he's going to be after he makes his cut or if he keeps it front side."
It also helps that the Eagles have the game's most dangerous rushing threat at quarterback in Vick, who ranks second on the team with 483 yards. Opposing defensive linemen and linebackers usually hesitate for a second or two before charging upfield in order to guard against running too far past Vick in the pocket and giving him the room to take off for a big gain.
As McGlynn pointed out, that can be just long enough for McCoy "to be in the hole and out. It's a huge thing for us and our scheme."
At 9-4, the Eagles are tied for first in the NFC East with the New York Giants, whom they face Sunday at New Meadowlands Stadium. The Eagles already have beaten them once, 27-17, in Week 11. The Giants' defense did a good job of disrupting Vick, but McCoy managed to run for 111 yards.
The Eagles expect the chore to be that much more difficult Sunday.
"The Giants have a great defense," Herremans said. "They're fast, they fly around. They get after the quarterback, and they do a good job of holding their own in the run game. There's a lot of different things that they can bring to the table with that defense, so we just have to step up to the challenge and be ready for it."
The Eagles play all of their remaining games outside (including their final two home contests against Minnesota and Dallas) in what likely will be weather more conducive to running.
"That's when linemen take the game over and run the ball and win dirty," McGlynn said. "If the opportunity comes and we have to grind out a game to win it, we'll simply put that on our shoulders and look forward to it."
They should, even if, in the Eagles' pass-happy offense, McCoy's production is easy to overlook.
Follow Vic Carucci on Twitter @viccarucci.