LeSEAN McCOY isn't a guy you wrap in plastic and save for a rainy day. He's one of the league's best running backs, and you put the ball in his hands as often as possible. You squeeze every ounce of production from him that you can.
But there is a fine line between doing that and overworking him to the point that you risk shortening his career. As a former running back who jammed more than 1,700 touches into 114 NFL games, Duce Staley's been there and done that. But it's hard to think about tomorrow when you have to win today.
"How can you tell a guy who's having success that he's getting too many carries?" said Staley, who is the Eagles' running backs coach and the man who monitors McCoy's playing time. "That's a tough task. Being in those shoes before, and of course, wanting the ball, any opportunity you get, every chance you get, you want the ball in your hands because you feel you can do something with it."
McCoy leads the league in rushing (1,009 yards) and yards from scrimmage (1,408). His 213 rushing attempts are the second most in the league, behind only the Vikings' Adrian Peterson. His 247 touches are the third most, behind Peterson (251) and the Chiefs' Jamaal Charles (253).
McCoy is on pace for 310 carries and a whopping 360 touches. Both would be career highs.
"I'm fine, I feel fine," McCoy insisted earlier this week. "I don't feel it at all. I'm not the type of back who takes those big hits. I'm not a back who takes a beating.
"You can't really get a direct shot on me. Other guys might take two or three shots a carry. They might get 25 carries, and on 15 of them, they're getting smashed or blown up. With me, guys don't get many one on one chances to really hit me.
"So I don't see myself with the high carries, with 310, I don't see it as a 310 [carry] load, if that makes any sense."
Staley admitted there's some merit to what McCoy said. But he's still concerned about running his star pupil into the ground.
"As a coach, I've got to do a better job of monitoring the situation and making sure I keep track of his touches and putting him in that type of situation simply because he's not built like me and other bruiser backs that came along that could handle 300-plus carries. That's on me.
"But when you're into the game, both as a coach and a player, who's counting carries? You only count them now or when you read one of the [stat] books [after the game]."
McCoy says he's feeling great. But he hasn't been nearly as productive since Nick Foles replaced Michael Vick at quarterback in Week 5. Rushed for 155 yards against the Packers and 116 against the Bucs, but has averaged just 4.2 yards per carry on 117 carries with Foles (and Matt Barkley) behind center compared to 5.4 yards per carry when Vick was the starter.
"I think with Mike, there definitely was a difference as far as the way [defenses] played us," McCoy said. "Because you had to account for Mike's running ability.
"If my numbers are down with Nick, it's because they'd rather take me out and deal with Nick running. I would do that if I was a defensive coordinator. It's understandable. But the thing is, when you do that, there's so many other things that we pull out of our arsenal that we can use and have used. That's why we've been winning."
Staley doesn't buy McCoy's logic there. With or without a read-option threat at quarterback, he feels McCoy should be able to average more than 4.2 yards per carry.
"LeSean will be the first to tell you, and if not, I'll be the first to tell you, a lot of that starts with McCoy," he said. "The type of player he is, the type of runner he is, he knows that they're going to be focusing on him throughout the whole game no matter who the quarterback is.
"Think about it. You've got a guy who's been leading the league [in rushing] most of the season. It's not like Stevie Wonder is playing. They know where the production is coming from. McCoy will be the first to tell you that there have been some holes that he should have taken. And that's what I love about him.
"I don't think you look at it as a Nick and Michael thing. Because it's not."
Evolution of D-Jax
Ever since playing his first game with the Eagles, DeSean Jackson has been one of the league's most feared vertical threats. He never has caught more than 62 passes in a season, and has surpassed 1,000 receiving yards just twice in 5 years. But his ability to get behind a secondary always has scared the hell out of opposing defensive backs.
Still does. But this season, in Chip Kelly's offense, Jackson finally has become more than a one-trick pony.
He's on pace for 84 catches and 1,432 yards. With five games still to play, his 42 receiving first downs are just one less than his career high and 19 more than anybody else on the team.
Despite his small size, he at long last has become a red-zone factor with four catches inside the 20, two for touchdowns. He has been a go-to guy on third down for both Mike Vick and Nick Foles. Has a team-high 12 third-down receptions and a team-high nine third-down catches for first downs.
And, oh yeah, he's still a dangerous deep threat. Leads the league with 19 receptions of 20 yards or more and is sixth in yards per catch (17.0).
"He's running a lot of the same routes he's always run, but he's also, I think, become a better route runner in a lot of ways," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "I think he's worked on his game quite a bit.
"We're not just sending him deep. We're crossing the field with him. He's running short and intermediate routes that would involve any receiver. But I think it's a credit to him. I've mentioned it before that I really have been pleased with the way he's trained himself to get ready to play each week, and he's making the most of his opportunities."
In Jackson's first 5 years in the league under Andy Reid, he had more than four red-zone receptions just once - his rookie year in '08 when he had five. His two red-zone TD catches through 11 games equals his '09 career high.
"Chip's done a great job of coming in here and giving me some opportunities in the red zone," Jackson said. "I think in the past, a lot of times, I was taken out down there in the red zone and not really given opportunities to make plays down there. The confidence level in me down there in the red zone now definitely plays a big part in our offense."
Figuring the Eagles
* Nick Foles leads the league in passing with a 128.0 passer rating. He has been even better against the blitz (135.2). On Sunday, he'll face an Arizona defense that blitzes as much as anyone in the league. Here's how Foles' blitz numbers stack up with the other quarterbacks currently ranked in the top 10 in passer rating:
Pct. YPA Int. Rat.
N. Foles. . . 62.8 10.1 5/0 135.2
P. Manning. . . 64.5 7.6 12/2 118.2
A. Rodgers. . . 56.4 10.2 4/1 108.1
D. Brees. . . 69.4 9.1 9/1 121.0
P. Rivers. . . 63.2 8.0 9/2 104.4
R. Wilson. . . 60.4 8.4 7/2 100.7
T. Romo. . . 62.4 6.7 5/2 89.0
Roethlisberger. . . 62.2 7.3 8/3 96.1
M. Glennon. . . 53.6 5.8 8/4 81.2
S. Bradford. . . 63.2 7.3 6/1 105.9
Source: Pro Football Focus
* LeSean McCoy has averaged 5.5 yards per carry in the third quarter, far and away his most productive quarter. He has averaged 4.5 in the second quarter and 4.3 in the first and fourth quarters. He's averaging 5.4 yards per carry on second down, compared to 4.4 on first down, 4.2 on third down and 3.0 on fourth down.
* You would need a half-dozen legal pads to list all of the differences between Chip Kelly and Andy Reid. But one of the most obvious is their attitude toward the run. The Eagles are sixth in the league in run percentage this season at 46.9. Reid's Chiefs are 19th at 40.9. They seem to differ the most in two particular situations - second-and-long and third-and-short. Kelly still is willing to run on second-and-long. Reid isn't. Kelly usually will run the ball in third-and-short situations. Reid is quicker to turn to the pass. An abbreviated down-and-distance play-selection comparison of Kelly and Reid:
1st & 10. . . 45.4 47.4
2nd & 10. . . 41.0 38.7
2nd & 8. . . 57.1 33.3
2nd & 5. . . 37.5 35.0
2nd & 1. . . 58.3 61.5
3rd & 10. . . 6.3 5.3
3rd & 8. . . 0.0 0.0
3rd & 55. . . 7.1 5.3
3rd & 3. . . 36.4 12.5
3rd & 2. . . 80.0 50.0
3rd & 1. . . 91.7 64.3
* A breakdown of the Eagles' 24 sacks by the number of rushers they have sent after the quarterback:
Rushed 6. . . 2
Rushed 5. . . 8
Rushed 4. . . 11
Rushed 3. . . 3
* The Eagles' offense, which was flagged for 10 false start penalties in the first five games, has committed just three in the last six games.
* The Eagles are 17th in the league in penalties (6.5 per game) and 21st in in penalty yards (58.1 per game). Just six Eagles players have been flagged five or more times this season. They are:
Pen. Dec. Yds.
Lane Johnson. . . 7 2 30
Evan Mathis. . . 6 1 40
Brandon Boykin. . . 5 1 82
Todd Herremans. . . 5 1 40
Fletcher Cox. . . 5 1 30
Cary Williams. . . 5 3 27
* The Eagles are ninth in the league in scoring, but are 22nd in fourth-quarter scoring. They have averaged just 5.3 points per game in the fourth quarter.
* The Eagles have just 15 turnovers in the first 11 games, only eight in the last eight games. Last year, they had a league-high 37 giveaways.
This and that
* Nick Foles has just one batted pass in 162 attempts this season and five in 427 attempts the last 2 years. That's just one batted pass every 85.4 attempts for the 6-5 Foles, compared to one every 37.8 attempts for 6-foot Michael Vick. "No matter how tall you are as a quarterback, you throw in lanes because the ball just comes out," Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "So whether you're 6-foot tall or 6-5, you have to throw in lanes. It's very difficult to throw over people. I think Nick has developed a good feel for that." The Saints' Drew Brees is the same size as Vick, but has averaged just one batted pass every 73.9 attempts the last 2 years. The Seahawks' Russell Wilson, who is only 5-11, has averaged a batted pass every 60.7 attempts in his first two NFL seasons.
* Since Kurt Warner retired after the 2009 season, the Cardinals have had seven different starting quarterbacks, the latest being Carson Palmer. When the team acquired Palmer from Oakland in an offseason trade, most of their fans were underwhelmed. They continued to be underwhelmed in his first seven starts this season when he threw 13 interceptions and had a 69.4 passer rating. But he's played very well in the last four games, all of which the Cardinals have won. In those four games, he has completed 69 percent of his passes, averaged 8.9 yards per attempt and thrown eight touchdown passes and just two interceptions, with a 110.8 passer rating. "It took a while for him to feel comfortable because this is a fairly complicated offense," Arians said. "Totally different than what he's been in. It probably took longer for the receivers to feel comfortable. But now it looks like, the last 2 weeks, we're starting to get it. It really shows up on the practice field. And it's nice to see it show up in games."
* Nate Allen hasn't made many SportsCenter highlight plays this season. Doesn't lead the team in tackles (he's third behind linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks) or interceptions (doesn't have any) or pass breakups. But he is quietly having a solid season that has ended all of that "second-round draft bust" talk. With the team's other two top safeties, Patrick Chung and Earl Wolff, having already missed five games with injuries, Allen has been the glue on the back end of the defense. "He's continued week in and week out to take big strides and just play solid football," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "It's not always [making] big plays and everybody saying, 'Oh, there is Nate.' It's just down in and down out, Nate is taking care of his job and it's helping the defense."
* Harold Carmichael's official title with the Eagles is director of player programs. But the former wide receiver does a lot of other important things, including helping keep DeSean Jackson's head on straight on game day. "He does a great job with me before games keeping me poised," Jackson said. "He has a talk with me before every game and says, 'Just keep your composure and don't let guys take you off your game and your focus. Stay calm. Stay collected and don't let guys get to you and get you frustrated.' Because I have a tendency to get mad and get penalties and do crazy things."
FROM THE LIP
* “We expect him to be the owner for many, many years.” — Bills CEO Russ Brandon on rumors that 95-year-old owner Ralph Wilson is considering selling the team
* “One thing about Joe, and I think any great player, is they want the ball in their hands. He’s always been that way. He’s always felt that way. I want him to have the ball in his hands.” - Ravens coach John Harbaugh on QB Joe Flacco, who recently called the “wildcat” a “high school offense”
* “Football, the way they call stuff these days, it’s watered down. It ain’t real no more.” — 49ers LB Ahmad Brooks, whose roughing the passer penalty against the Saints 2 weeks ago negated a Drew Brees fumble
* Kryptonite. It’s kryptonite so far. I watched ‘Man of Steel’ last night on the ride home. That’s an issue we’ve got to correct. We’ve got to be better there. That’s the one area that, regardless of how good you are, that’s the kind of thing that can really cripple you. We’ve got to protect the football better.”
— Broncos interim coach Jack Del Rio after his team turned the ball over four times in their 31-24 overtime loss to the Patriots
BY THE NUMBERS
* Since 2010, the Patriots are 25-2 in the second half of the season, including 7-1 last year.
* The Colts have been outscored 93-12 in the first half of last four games.
* The Cardinals have won four in a row and have scored 25-plus points in all four games. The last time that happened was in 1988.
* With two touchdown passes against the Giants last week, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has 200 career TD passes. He’s just the fifth undrafted player in NFL history to throw 200 TD passes. The other four: Hall of Famer Warren Moon (291), Dave Krieg (261), Jim Hart (209), Kurt Warner (208).
* Before the Cowboys converted three third-down opportunities on their game-winning drive against the Giants last week, they had been one for their last 20 on third down, dating back to Week 10.
* Adrian Peterson, who has 10 rushing touchdowns this season, is only the third player in history to rush for at least 10 TDs in seven different seasons. He joins LaDainian Tomlinson (9) and Emmitt Smith (8).
* This is just the fourth time since they moved to Phoenix in 1988 that the Cardinals have won at least seven of their first 11 games.
1 Seahawks 10-1 (3 last week)
2 Patriots 8-3 (4)
3 Saints 9-2 (5)
4 Broncos 9-2 (2)
5 Chiefs 9-2 (1)
6 Panthers 8-3 (9)
7 49ers 7-4 (6)
8 Cardinals 7-4 (13)
9 Lions 7-5 (7)
10 Bengals 7-4 (15)
11 Chargers 5-6 (17)
12 Colts 7-4 (8)
13 Cowboys 7-5 (18)
14 *Ravens 5-6 (14)
15 Eagles 6-5 (16)
16 Bears 6-5 (10)
17 * Steelers 5-6 (22)
18 Rams 5-6 (21)
19 Titans 5-6 (19)
20 Jets 5-6 (12)
21 Raiders 4-8 (25)
22 Packers 5-6-1 (11)
23 Giants 4-7 (20)
24 Dolphins 5-6 (23)
25 Bills 4-7 (26)
26 Browns 4-7 (24)
27 Bucs 3-8 (31)
28 Redskins 3-8 (28)
29 Jaguars 2-9 (32)
30 Vikings 2-8-1 (27)
31 Falcons 2-9 (30)
32 Texans 2-9 (29)
*Last night’s Ravens-Steelers game not included.
On Twitter: @Pdomo