Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Where McCoy found success in 2010

Was LeSean McCoy better running to the left, the right or up the middle last season? And were there specific situations in which he excelled? Here's a closer look.

Where McCoy found success in 2010

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LeSean McCoy established himself as one of the top running backs in his first full year as a starter. (Ron Cortes/ Staff Photographer)
LeSean McCoy established himself as one of the top running backs in his first full year as a starter. (Ron Cortes/ Staff Photographer)

Most of us have stopped paying attention to the many Pro Bowl replacements that are announced on a daily basis this time of year.

But that's not the case for LeSean McCoy. Here's what he Tweeted Sunday evening:

Nice game n all but I'm trying to get n this pro bowl ... One of them backs back out??? LOL

Earlier this month, I made the case for McCoy to be a Pro Bowler. The Cliff Notes version: His numbers were better than Steven Jackson's in pretty much every category. Michael Turner and Adrian Peterson, however, were probably just as deserving and have established reputations.

McCoy finished his second season with 1,080 yards on the ground and 592 receiving yards. His 1,672 yards combined ranked fourth in the NFL behind Houston's Arian Foster (2,218), Kansas City's Jamaal Charles (1,935) and Baltimore's Ray Rice (1,779). McCoy's 5.2 yards per carry ranked third among running backs, and he led everyone at the position with 78 receptions.

While Michael Vick grabbed many of the headlines during the season, McCoy's emergence was a huge success story for the Eagles. Entering 2010, the running game was a bit of an unknown as McCoy had turned in a decent, but unspectacular, rookie season in 2009. Now the Eagles appear to be set at running back for the next two seasons (McCoy's rookie contract goes through 2012).

Today, I wanted to take a closer look at McCoy's performance, and specifically where and when he found success running the ball in 2010. Here's a table showing the direction of his carries:


Att.
Yds.
YPC
Right sideline
24
75
3.1
Right side
38
168
4.4
Middle
86
436
5.1
Left side
36
210
5.8
Left sideline
23
191
8.3


What stands out here? McCoy was significantly better running to the left, which is not surprising. Jason Peters and Todd Herremans are the Eagles' two best linemen, and this is pretty good evidence that they did an outstanding job in the run game. McCoy averaged 5.8 yards per carry to the left and 8.3 yards per carry when he got to the left sideline.

Interestingly enough, though, McCoy didn't have more attempts to the left side. He rushed 62 times to the right and 59 times to the left. When the Birds drafted McCoy, and even during his rookie season, there were questions about whether he could run effectively up the middle. Some thought he danced around too much and was always looking for a huge gain. McCoy did an excellent job running up the middle last season, though, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Mike McGlynn, Herremans and Max Jean-Gilles/Nick Cole deserve some credit there too. The interior of the Eagles' line did a good job of creating holes.

The other impressive aspect about McCoy's performance was his strength. He talked all year about strengthening his lower body in the offseason, and that showed in a few different areas.

For starters, he was great in the fourth quarter. McCoy averaged 6.1 yards per carry in the fourth, second to only Charles (6.3). He was more effective in the fourth quarter than the first (5.2), second (4.0) or third (5.5). ESPN.com keeps a stat that measures effectiveness in close games - defined as situations where the score is within seven points (either winning or losing) in the fourth quarter. On those rushes, McCoy averaged a ridiculous 8.6 yards per carry.

He was also excellent in short yardage. According to STATS.com, McCoy was 8-for-10 on 3rd-and-short (less than 3 yards to go). That was tied for the third-best percentage among running backs, behind Miami's Lousaka Polite and Green Bay's John Kuhn.

Given the Eagles' preference to throw the football, it'd be easy to assume that much of McCoy's success came when defenses were guarding against the pass. That might have been true to some extent, but McCoy was good when the defenses stacked the box too. Not just good, actually, but the best in the league.

ESPN.com's Next Level department did the research on which running backs were best against a loaded box. Here's what they found out:

Fourteen running backs had at least 30 attempts against a loaded box this season. McCoy finished in the top four in rushing yards (207), touchdowns (three) and attempts per first down (2.8), despite having the fewest carries of those 14 backs (36).  Also, McCoy was more than up to the task of running out the clock. One-third of his rushes against a loaded box came in the fourth quarter with the Eagles leading. McCoy rushed 12 times for 85 yards and three first downs in those situations. His 7.1 yards per rush was tops among backs with at least 10 carries.

That makes sense when you consider the fourth-quarter numbers I mentioned above. In other words, McCoy was an outstanding closer.

Those are the numbers from McCoy's second season in the NFL. It's remarkable that the Eagles were able to transition from an all-time great in Brian Westbrook so easily. Later this offseason, I'll revisit the discussion about how the two running backs compare.

But for now, I'll let you hit the comments section and question why McCoy didn't get the ball more in 2010, considering how effective he was.


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About this blog
Sheil Kapadia is in his fifth season writing about the Eagles and the NFL for philly.com. His earliest memories as a sports fan include several trips to Veterans Stadium with his Dad. He's not a beat writer or an Insider, but is here to discuss the NFL 365 days a year. E-mail him at skapadia@philly.com or by clicking here

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