Carry On

Keep running, Shady, but don't fumble

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"It's crazy," Owen Schmitt said about the way LeSean McCoy holds the ball. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." (Yong Kim/Staff file Photo)

If you want to teach your kid how not to carry a football, have him watch LeSean McCoy.

Every time the Eagles running back has the ball in his hands, he looks like a fumble waiting to happen. Players are taught to carry the ball high and tight. McCoy carries it like a hoagie he's bringing home from Wawa.

He lugs it dangerously away from his body, dangling it out there for defenders to knock loose. Yet they seldom do.

"It's crazy," fullback Owen Schmitt said. "The way he carries the ball is the way you're taught not to carry the ball. Yet, it's effective for him. He's been doing it that way forever. It works for him. If it works for you, then why change? If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

The Eagles have fumbled 12 times this season, but none had McCoy's fingerprints on them. He is second in the league in rushing and fifth in yards from scrimmage. He has 158 touches and, much to the chagrin of the people chasing him and tackling him, he hasn't put a single one on the ground.

He's fumbled only four times in 638 career touches. Over the last 2 years, he has only two fumbles in 443 touches. Only four running backs - the Patriots' BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the Ravens' Ray Rice, the Vikings' Adrian Peterson and the Rams' Steven Jackson - have a better fumbles-to-carry ratio than McCoy (see chart).

Go figure.

"He carries it pretty loose," rookie running back Dion Lewis said. "But he just seems to know when people are around him. He has that sense to bring it in. When contact comes, he always covers it up."

Said Schmitt: "It's wild. He gets away with it. It's awesome. We work on that [ball-protection] stuff all the time. He works on it. Keep the ball high and tight. But that's just not how he runs with it.

"The coaches say stuff to him every once in a while. But he doesn't drop the ball. If he fumbled a lot, then it would be different. But you can't argue with the results."

Teams that play the Eagles, including Monday night's opponent, the Bears, notice the seemingly reckless way McCoy carries the ball. But seeing it and doing something about it are two different things.

"That's something we've noticed," Bears cornerback Tim Jennings said this week. "That's his [running] style, and he feels comfortable that, when he gets hit, he can tuck it. He's not fumbling, but [the ball's] out there. It's out there and we are going to take our shots."

 

VICK'S ACCURACY

One of the more amazing things about The New Michael Vick is his much-improved accuracy. Vick spent his first six NFL seasons with the Falcons and never had a completion percent higher than 56.4. His last three seasons in Atlanta, he finished 27th, 29th and 31st in the league in completion percentage.

But that has changed since he became the Eagles' starting quarterback last season. He had a career-high 62.6 completion percent in 2010 and entered this weekend ninth in the league with a 63.2 completion percent. In his last six starts, he's completed 66.3 percent of his passes.

"I think when you look at Michael, you look at his frame of mind now as [opposed to] when he was younger," coach Andy

Reid said. "I think he relied probably a little more on his athletic ability [with the Falcons]. His work ethic wasn't quite the same as it is now.

"When he came out of being incarcerated, he came out and he had certain things he wanted to work on, felt like he needed to work on to make his game better from where it was before, and he attacked those things. Aggressively attacked them. And [offensive coordinator] Marty [Mornhinweg] and [former quarterbacks coach] James Urban, and now [current quarterbacks coach] Doug Pederson have done a nice job coaching him."

Wide receiver Jason Avant thinks Vick's growth and maturation as a person have helped him improve as a football player.

"He's a different person, and I think that creates a different product on the field," he said. "I think everything he went through - the whole deal with the dogs and prison and everything - I think it made him more humble. I think it made him more appreciative. And it caused him to see things differently.

"I think his approach to the game is more professional now. With the coaches that we have and the offense that we have, they've taught him how to play quarterback, and it's shown on the field."

 

FIGURING THE EAGLES

* The Eagles have dramatically cut down on their penalties this season. They've committed only 43 for 341 yards in the first seven games. Through seven games last year, they had 58 for 527 yards. The Eagles' penalties-per-game average of 6.1 is the 12th best in the league. They are 10th in fewest average penalty yards per game (48.7). It should be pointed out that avoiding penalties doesn't necessarily guarantee wins. The four teams averaging the fewest penalties per game this season are the 3-4 Redskins (3.6), the 0-7 Dolphins (4.4), the 2-6 Jaguars (4.5) and the 2-5 Broncos (5.0).

The Eagles have committed 11 false-start penalties so far. Curiously, seven have come at home. Even though he missed two games with a hamstring injury, left tackle Jason Peters has a team-high four false starts. The only other players with multiple false starts are center Jason Kelce and right tackle Todd Herremans, both with two.

The special-teams units have committed only four penalties. Defensive end Jason Babin, who leads the team in sacks, also leads the team in penalties. He's been flagged a team-high seven times, two of which were declined.

* After holding the Redskins and Cowboys to a combined 127 rushing yards, the Eagles have moved up to 19th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (118.3). But they're still near the bottom (28th) in rushing average (5.0). They've allowed 8 yards or more on 35 of 164 rushing attempts. A seven-game breakdown of the Eagles' run defense:

By Down

1st: 91 attempts, 496 yards; 5.4 avg

2nd: 55 attempts, 198 yards; 3.6 avg.

3rd: 17 attempts, 133 yards; 7.8 avg.

4th: 1 attempt, 1 yard; 1.0 avg.

By Quarter

1st: 46 attempts, 291 yards; 6.3 avg.

2nd: 30 attempts, 170 yards; 5.7 avg.

3rd: 41 attempts, 146 yards; 3.6 avg.

4th: 47 attempts, 223 yards; 4.7 avg.

* The Eagles scored touchdowns on their first and second possessions in last week's win over the Cowboys. It was the first time they've scored on their first possession since Week 14 of last season in a 30-27 win over the Cowboys. It was the first time they've scored on their first two possessions since a 34-24 win over Houston in Week 13 of last season. The Eagles are averaging 4.8 yards per play on their first possession this season and 6.5 on their second possession.

* The Eagles again went with a lot of two-tight end formations against the Cowboys. They used two-tight end sets on 32 of 70 plays in the game. In their last two games, they've used two-tight end sets on 56 of 142 offensive plays (39.4 percent). It's been a key to the Eagles' run success in the last two games. LeSean McCoy rushed for 311 yards on 58 carries against the Redskins and Cowboys; 161 of those yards and 27 of those carries came out of two-tight end sets.

* You probably know that the Eagles are 13-0 in their first game after their bye under Andy Reid. But did you know they are an impressive 79-35-1 (.687) in all regular-season games after the bye?

 

THIS AND THAT

* A new poll by a cleverly named outfit called Poll Position found that 25 percent of Americans think the NFL is too violent, while 12 percent said it wasn't violent enough.

* The Patriots, who were torched for 365 yards by the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger last week, are having some real problems defending the pass. They're last in the league in passing yards allowed and passing first downs allowed. They are tied for 22nd in touchdown passes allowed. Opposing quarterbacks have a .667 completion percentage and a 92.9 passer rating against them. Bill Belichick abruptly released veteran cornerback Leigh Bodden before the Steelers game, and rookie Ras-I-Dowling, who started the first two games of the season, is on injured reserve. That has forced such inexperienced young players as Antwaun Molden and Phillip Adams to handle bigger roles. "I thought they were competitive [against the Steelers]," Belichick said. "The problems we had in the Pittsburgh game, I wouldn't put [cornerback] at the top of the list."

* The 0-8 Colts still haven't put quarterback Peyton Manning on injured reserve. Manning still is recovering from neck surgery. They'd be crazy to play him, even if he eventually is cleared by his doctors. "Whenver we get to the point where the doctors say, 'Hey, this is a reality and this is when it's going to happen,' then we can kind of look at that situation at that point in time," Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. "But until then, it's just exactly what you're doing. You're speculating. Obviously, a guy of his stature is a pretty good player. So you'd like to have his services. But you just don't know if it's going to happen."

 

2-MINUTE DRILL

FROM THE LIP:

* "It's just frustrating because you don't know what's going to be a penalty and what's not going to be a penalty. And you're assuming if you get a penalty, you're going to get fined. Or you don't get a penalty and then you get fined. I don't understand." - Confused Bears LB Brian Urlacher, on the inconsistency in punishment for illegal hits

* "You look at Tom Brady. When he gets hit, you always wonder if there's going to be a flag. It's the sort of thing that may be called for him that may not be called for other quarterbacks. That's just because of his stature or how he's [viewed] in the league. It's the same thing with defensive players. I think my hits may look a little different because of the type of strength and athleticism I have, compared to some other defensive linemen. It's just the way the world works." - Lions DT Ndamukong Suh, on the inconsistency in punishment for illegal hits

* "Loved it, loved it. Wished he would have come over and wiped some [blood] off on my cheek. We have a great picture of it in our team room now. Doesn't even have his eyes closed, either. A lot of guys probably would have closed their eyes. Loved it, loved it." - 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh on LB Ahmad Brooks, who split his lip after his helmetless sack of Browns QB Colt McCoy

* "We remember that. It'll be a huge motivation for guys. If I [were them and] watched the film of last year, I'd run it every play against us. It's something we're going to focus on. They ran it right up our butt. As a man, that's gotta kind of test you a little bit. We'll see if they can do it again Sunday." - Bills DE Dwan Edwards on Sunday's opponent, the Jets, who rushed for 276 yards against them in a Week 17 win last year

BY THE NUMBERS:

* Since 2002, the Patriots and Chargers are an impressive 24-7 (.774) in division games in November, December and January. That's the best mark in the league. The Colts are third at 23-7 (.767), followed by the Packers and Steelers at 23-10 (.697).

* Bears running back Matt Forte leads the league with 1,091 yards from scrimmage. This is the fourth straight year he's had 1,000-plus yards from scrimmage. He's the first player in franchise history to do that. Forte has accounted for 43.6 percent of the Bears yards from scrimmage this season. Since the 1970 merger, only four players have accounted for a higher percent of their team's scrimmage yards in a single season: the Bills' O.J. Simpson (47.9 percent in 1973), the Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson (44.1 in '03), the Titans' Chris Johnson (44.0 in '09) and the Ravens' Jamal Lewis (43.7 in '03).

* The Bills' 10 sacks against the Redskins last week were the second most they've had in a game. They had an 11-sack game in 1964.

* The Vikings' Adrian Peterson, who has a league-best 798 rushing yards and nine TDs, is only the fourth player in history to rush for 750-plus yards and eight TDs in each of his first five seasons. The other three: Jim Brown, Emmitt Smith and LaDainian Tomlinson.

* The Ravens became the fifth team this season to come back from at least 20 points down to win last week. That's the most in a single season in NFL history. And we still have 9 weeks left to play.

 

THAT'S SAYING THUMBTHING

THUMBS UP: To former Penn State product Aaron Maybin, who has resuscitated his career with the Jets after washing out with the Bills. The 240-pound defensive end/linebacker, who was released by the Bills last summer only 2 years after they made him the 11th overall pick in the 2009 draft, has three sacks and three forced fumbles in four games with the Jets. That's three more sacks and two more forced fumbles than he had in 27 games with the Bills.

THUMBS DOWN: To Browns running back Peyton Hillis, who failed to show up for a Halloween charity function with the Cleveland Boys and Girls Club. The event was promoted as "Halloween With Hillis," but the guest of honor, who has spent the last 3 months bitching and moaning about his contract, even though he has had only one productive season and will miss his fourth straight game this week with a hamstring injury, never made it. He later blamed it on a miscommunication between himself and his management team. "If I knew the full depths of it, I wouldn't have missed it," he said.

 

DOMO'S NFL RANKINGS

1 Packers 7-0 (1 last week)

2 Steelers 6-2 (4)

3 Patriots 5-2 (2)

4 Ravens 5-2 (5)

5 49ers 6-1 (6)

6 Saints 5-3 (3)

7 Bills 5-2 (8)

8 Lions 6-2 (9)

9 Jets 4-3 (10)

10 Bengals 5-2 (17)

11 Chargers 4-3 (7)

12 Bears 4-3 (11)

13 Giants 5-2 (12)

14 Falcons 4-3 (13)

15 Texans 5-3 (16)

16 Bucs 4-3 (14)

17 Eagles 3-4 (18)

18 Raiders 4-3 (15)

19 Titans 4-3 (23)

20 Chiefs 4-3 (24)

21 Cowboys 3-4 (19)

22 Browns 3-4 (21)

23 Redskins 3-4 (20)

24 Vikings 2-6 (29)

25 Panthers 2-6 (22)

26 Jaguars 2-6 (25)

27 Rams 1-6 (30)

28 Cardinals 1-6 (26)

29 Seahawks 2-5 (27)

30 Broncos 2-5 (28)

31 Dolphins 0-7 (32)

32 Colts 0-8 (31)