Arrival of new coach in Philadelphia a godsend for former Pitt back McCoy
January 2, 2014 7:57 PM
Matt Freed / Post-Gazette
Troy Polamalu takes down the Eagles' LeSean McCoy in the first quarter in a 2012 game at Heinz Field.
Michael Conroy/Associated Press
Pitt running back LeSean McCoy avoids a tackle against Notre Dame in 2008.
By Ray Fittipaldo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Knowshon Moreno, Donald Brown and Beanie Wells have something in common. Each was selected in the first round of the 2009 NFL entry draft.
Someday, they could be the answer to a trivia question: Which three running backs were taken ahead of LeSean McCoy?
It could be that type of career for McCoy, who after five seasons in the NFL, is among the league’s top 100 rushers of all time. He moved into 100th place on the final weekend of the regular season when he rushed for 131 yards and locked up the NFL rushing title in Philadelphia’s 24-22 victory against Dallas that clinched the NFC East division championship and a playoff berth for the Eagles.
McCoy ran for 1,607 yards and also accumulated 2,146 yards from scrimmage this season, both team records. All this from someone who was not taken until the 53rd pick and well into the second round.
Other offensive players who were taken before McCoy that year include receiver Brian Robiskie and quarterback Pat White, who, like Wells, spent the 2013 season out of the NFL.
McCoy notched his third 1,000-yard rushing season in five years in the NFL. His record-breaking season — he broke the Eagles rushing record held by Wilbert Montgomery and yards from scrimmage record set by Brian Westbrook — came as a result of a union with rookie head coach Chip Kelly, who went away from the pass-happy system that previous coach Andy Reid used and made McCoy the focal point of his uptempo offense.
“Coach Kelly is finding ways to get matchups one-on-one with defenders,” McCoy said. “It’s getting the ball in my hands in open space. A lot of credit goes to the guys up front who are playing lights out. The guys up front are healthy and blocking well, and the one-on-one opportunities, I think I’m getting the best of those. That’s not easy because you have to get there and the guys up front are getting me there. Coach Kelly, the designs he has, the plays, using different decoys to get the matchups, we’re making the best of them.”
McCoy and the Eagles will play the New Orleans Saints in an NFC wild-card game Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. The Eagles, after starting the season 3-5, won seven of their final eight games to make the playoffs for the first time in three years.
They got there with McCoy as the heart of an offense that set team season records in 2013 for most points, yards, passing yards and touchdowns.
McCoy was terrific in the second-half surge. He ran for 155 yards in a November win at Green Bay, 217 in a home victory against Detroit earlier this month and 133 against Chicago one week before gaining 131 yards against the Cowboys in the regular-season finale.
“LeSean understands what talents he’s been given,” said Kelly, who made his reputation by coaching high-scoring offenses as offensive coordinator and head coach at the University of Oregon. “If you don’t use them and don’t work on your craft, you’re wasting them. He’s really bought into what our guys are doing in the weight room. When you listen to our guys about how he’s working in there … it’s what makes him such a special player. It’s not just his talent. It’s his approach to the game.”
The Eagles were 12-20 in the final two seasons under Reid and missed the playoffs in 2011 and 2012. McCoy was on playoff teams as a rookie in 2009 (vs. Green Bay) and 2010 (vs. Dallas), but the Eagles lost both times as wild cards, and McCoy wasn’t much of a factor in either game. He rushed 12 times for 46 yards in a 21-16 loss against the Packers and five times for 24 yards in a 34-14 loss against the Cowboys .
“The playoffs are tough,” McCoy said. “It’s hard. It’s hard to get here and it’s hard to stay. You have to play hard every second, every play.”
McCoy led the NFL with 314 rushing attempts this season and figures to be much more involved Saturday against the Saints when the Eagles try to win a playoff game for the first time in nearly five years.
McCoy, for one, doesn’t sound as if he’s ready for another one-and-done.
“We’re rolling,” he said. “I think we’re hot right now. I think we’re real hot. We’re made for the playoffs. Everyone is so excited about being division champs. I think we should be. We have so much talent, and the way we prepare, we’re prepared to be division champs. We’re prepared to win this game.
“The Saints are a good team for sure. They have an explosive offense and talented defense. But the guys in this room, we can get the job done.”
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.
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