McCoy vs. Westbrook? Staley picks Shady
We interrupt the Eagles' quarterback controversy to give you something fresh to discuss and debate at your workplace watercooler Thursday morning.
It's about time we had a running back controversy in this town, and I confess to being guilty of entirely manufacturing this one. Should it be Bryce Brown or LeSean McCoy starting Sunday in the Eagles' first-place showdown with the Dallas Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field?
Sorry if you actually started debating that.
My topic for discussion matches McCoy against Brian Westbrook, the last two men to hold down the running back position for the Eagles and without question two of the finest in franchise history.
The timing is right because McCoy, at 25 and in his fifth NFL season, is doing things that no other Eagles running back has accomplished. His 630 rushing yards lead the NFL and are the most through six games in franchise history. He also leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 871.
Hall of Famer Steve Van Buren is the only Eagles running back to ever lead the league in rushing yards. He did it four times, the last being in 1949. Four Eagles running backs - Westbrook in 2007, Ricky Watters in 1996, Wilbert Montgomery in 1979, and Van Buren in 1947 and 1948 - have led the league in yards from scrimmage.
Duce Staley also was a star running back for the Eagles, and he might be the best man qualified to answer our debate question. Staley, near the end of his Eagles career, mentored Westbrook and he is in his third season as an Eagles coach, his first exclusively working with the running backs.
Staley loves Westbrook, but he did not hesitate to answer when asked whether his former teammate was better than his current student.
"If I had to go back and look at Brian Westbrook at the peak of his career and LeSean McCoy at the peak of his career . . . if you were playing fantasy football, who would you pick?" Staley asked.
He had already answered his own question: McCoy.
"His ability to make people miss in small areas is the best in the league," Staley said after the Eagles practice Wednesday. "McCoy is a guy - and I tell him this all the time - who can make you miss in a phone booth. You look at explosion, you look at how quick he is from when he touches a ball in a five-yard space, there is no one better than him doing that."
Westbrook was great at all of those things, too, but McCoy has an unfair advantage over his predecessor now that Chip Kelly has replaced Andy Reid as coach. McCoy averaged 14.4 carries per game through his first four seasons with the Eagles and Westbrook averaged 12.2 carries per game during his seven seasons with the team.
This season, McCoy is averaging a league-leading 20.5 carries per game in Kelly's scheme and it's a dream come true for any running back.
"Oh, no doubt," Staley said before whimsically wishing he could turn back the clock and play in Kelly's system. "It's ideal for a running back because all good running backs get into a groove, and once they get into it they want the ball. As he continues to get the ball, he gets better and better."
Even if McCoy didn't get the ball more often than Westbrook, Staley still believes he would be just a little bit better.
"When I look at him and then look back at my career, I'm like, 'Whoa, I wish I could have done that,' " Staley said. "Brian had similar moves, but not as quick and not as sudden. McCoy is able to make a move that is followed up by another move that is followed up by another move."
Two things that Westbrook excelled at were catching the football and protecting the quarterback from the blitz. McCoy's game in those areas is improving.
"I think I said a couple weeks ago that Westbrook was one of the best screen running backs I have ever seen in my life and then Shady comes out and rips off a couple big plays on that," guard Todd Herremans said. "He's young still, too, so he's going to keep getting better and better. Westbrook was excellent in protection and Shady is good in protection."
McCoy's blitz protection, in fact, was the thing that most surprised Kelly about his star running back.
"The one thing I've been really impressed with LeSean is that he's a complete running back," Kelly said. "I think you look at him in blitz pickup . . . the Giants brought a couple blitzes and he stepped up and stoned the linebacker in the hole."
The Eagles are still searching for that elusive Super Bowl trophy, but during their pursuit they have had some pretty special running backs. By the time he is done, McCoy just might be at the top of the list.