What to expect from the Eagles' run game
What kind of leap will LeSean McCoy make in his second year in the Eagles' offense? Will the Birds run the ball more with Donovan McNabb gone? A look at those questions and projections for 2010.
What to expect from the Eagles' run game
Today, we take a look at expectations for Eagles running backs LeSean McCoy, Mike Bell and Leonard Weaver.
As I continue to digest the Eagles chapter in the 2010 Football Outsiders Almanac, different nuggets have caught my attention.
One of the main items has to do with the running backs and Weaver. You thought Weaver had a great 2009 season. I thought Weaver had a great 2009 season. And by pretty much all accounts, he did. The Eagles were obviously pleased with his performance, rewarding Weaver with a three-year deal this offseason.
But consider this stat. When the Eagles ran the ball out of a single-back formation last year, they averaged 5.2 yards per carry. When they ran the ball with two backs, they averaged just 3.1 yards per carry.
How do you explain the discrepancy? An obvious factor is that teams are not as likely to expect a run when the Eagles go with just one back. But if you look at the numbers, it's not that simple. When the Eagles went with two running backs, they called a running play 40 percent of the time, the second-lowest percentage in the league out of those formations. They were still more likely to pass with two running backs on the field, so it's not really accurate to say that defenses could key on the run in those situations.
Per the FOA's findings, the Eagles lined up with just one running back on 67 percent of their offensive plays, the seventh-highest percentage in the league. And they ran the ball 41 percent of the time on first down - the second-lowest mark in the league.
As we continue to analyze the numbers from 2009 and look ahead to 2010, the obvious questions are: How will McCoy handle an increased workload? What kind of impact will Bell have? And should Weaver touch the ball more?
Here's what the FOA projects:
The projections suggest McCoy won't make much of a leap as a runner. He had 155 carries for 637 yards, averaging 4.1 yards per carry as a rookie.
The one encouraging part about McCoy's projected performance is that last column: 9.2 yards per reception. I took a look at that number back in May. McCoy averaged 7.7 yards per catch last season. The more explosive backs in the league averaged a higher number. Ray Rice was at 9.0. Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson were at 10.1. If McCoy can average 9.2 yards per catch, he'll almost certainly establish himself as one of the five best receiving backs in the league. And he'll show he's more of a big-play threat than he was in 2009.
The total number of projected attempts by the three backs is 298. Below is a chart of attempts, yards and yards per carry by Eagles running backs over the past three seasons. Note that these numbers do not include runs by the quarterbacks or wide receivers.
As you can see, the number of attempts by running backs went down pretty significantly last year. The projected number of 298 includes only McCoy, Bell and Weaver. But it's unlikely that whichever running back(s) play behind them get more than 10 carries or so.
The projections suggest Andy Reid, Marty Mornhinweg and company will be no more likely to hand the ball off this year than they've been in previous years. And I would probably agree with that, although that number could certainly get back up to the 350s as in 2007 and 2008.
One other link to pass along concerning the running backs. ProFootballFocus.com measured the elusiveness of the league's running backs in 2009. Click on the link for a detailed explanation, but for our purposes, it's based on a couple main factors: forced missed tackles and yards after contact.
McCoy ranked just 40th in their Elusive Rating. Bell ranked second-to-last in the entire league. And Brian Westbrook ranked third-to-last. Westbrook ranked very low in yards gained after contact. Just under 46 percent of his yards came after contact. Only two running backs had worse percentages.