Big moments for Eagles' McCoy

Eagles running back LeSean McCoy. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

LeSEAN McCOY broke his ankle in high school and, last Thursday night, he thought he had broken it again. It was just before halftime and he was plainly distressed on the field. His reaction frightened everyone who saw it. "It felt like my old injury, when I got hurt in high school," he said. "That's why I was so shook up about it and in pain."

In his senior year of high school, at Harrisburg's Bishop McDevitt, the injury was a compound fracture, with the bones going this way and that and the future just as uncertain. On the field, as they waited for the ambulance, he told his father that he thought he was done - not with the game, or the season, but with the sport. That is how serious he felt it was.

That was a defining moment for McCoy in many ways. He ended up at a prep school because of the injury, and then at the University of Pittsburgh. But he also left school early and entered the NFL draft because of the injury, in a way - because it constantly reminded him that nothing was promised to him, certainly not longevity, not at the position and in the sport that he played.

It is why he was screaming the other night - because it felt the same way, and because of the memories. And if he still had a bit of a limp and some soreness, 6 days later, McCoy seems otherwise unburdened. These days, it is good to be Shady.

Through three games, it is clear that McCoy has been the greatest beneficiary of the coaching change from Andy Reid to Chip Kelly. McCoy is a great player in space, and this new offense - even more than being about a quick tempo - is about spreading out defenses and getting the ball to the Eagles' weapons in space. Through these first few weeks, the results have been plain.

McCoy is the leading rusher in the National Football League. His change-of-direction abilities are becoming legend, but it's more than that. He plays behind a line that often gives him a nice initial crease - and when he gets through that hole, into space, he can make defenders look foolish. It is a neat trick.

But, more than that, it is an essential trick for an offense that is still working to establish another outside weapon besides DeSean Jackson. As teams try different tactics to stop the Eagles, we have seen three variations in three games. This week against Denver, it could change again.

"I definitely think so," McCoy said. "The last two games, they've tried to stack the box and play us man and stop the run . . . As a defense, it's all about what you want to take away. You can take away the big gains downfield or do you want try to stop myself and Michael Vick in the box. It's all about what you want to try to take away . . .

"I think, as a defense, if you really want to stop a player, you can do it."

The game of counting defenders near the line of scrimmage - the men in the box - is continual. Six in the box is favorable for a runner. Seven is an honest slog. Eight is a pain. But with variations and disguises, the number isn't always clear until after the snap. It is all a game, and the counting can sometimes be more of an art than a science.

McCoy ran 20 times against Kansas City. Only three of them, for 9 yards, came against an obvious six-man box. Three other runs, for 19 yards, were against eight-man boxes. The other 14 runs, for 130 yards, were against seven men. McCoy has been way more successful against that number than he should be - because the line often gets him that first hole, and then he freezes the second-level people with his open-field moves. On top of that, the downfield blocking is occasionally excellent; on the 18-yard run where he was hurt at the end of the first half, both tackle Jason Peters and tight end Brent Celek did significant blocking work after McCoy had sprung through the first line of the Chiefs' defense.

Now, Denver - where everybody is talking about Peyton Manning and nobody is talking about an Eagles offense that, while inconsistent, has still put up about 460 yards per game. Overshadowed? "We can't worry about that," McCoy said, at the same time acknowledging, "Once you punt the ball to Peyton Manning, you can kind of count that as seven."

With starting cornerback Champ Bailey out of the lineup on Monday night against Oakland - he was still limited in practice yesterday with a foot injury - Denver played a lot of two-deep safeties. That is, they routinely had five people covering three receivers, which leaves six in the box, which is McCoy's ideal.

Kansas City was able to get away with one deep safety most of the time, which speaks to the talent of their defense. Most teams won't try that, for fear of Jackson over the top.

So what happens this week?

Don't know anything, except that the Eagles are big underdogs.

"Well, if I was a betting man, I'd take the Eagles," McCoy said. "I don't get wrapped up in point spreads and being the underdog - that's why you play the game. I'm sure they're preparing to win the game, we're preparing to win the game. I think it will be a good matchup. I'm excited."

And considering that moment, 6 days ago, right before halftime, that is plenty.


On Twitter: @theidlerich