FOUR TIMES this season, LeSean McCoy has known all week that he would be the primary running back, has taken all the practice reps for the upcoming game.
The Eagles are 3-1 in those games, in which McCoy has rushed for 319 yards, on 54 carries, 4.98 yards per carry. Some of the other six games, McCoy split duty with Brian Westbrook throughout. Others, Westbrook left early with injuries, making McCoy the main guy for at least part of the day. The bottom line on those games: The Eagles are 3-3, and McCoy has rushed 42 times, for just 133 yards. That's 3.17 yards per carry.
I am not a guy who obsesses a lot on stats, but I find these pretty interesting, and relevant even, with the rookie again practicing all week as the starter, Westbrook still sidelined by concussion, heading into Sunday afternoon's visit from the Redskins. Washington ranks first in the NFL against the pass, 25th against the rush, and it's possible dominant defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth might not play with an ankle injury.
"You get the first-year guys, every day's a new day for 'em," Eagles coach Andy Reid said, when asked about the disparity in McCoy's performances. "Every team that you play, they kind of have to kind of relearn things."
For rookies more than vets,
Reid said, standing and watching is less helpful than "getting out and doing it." A vet might find meetings and film more valuable than practice reps. Not so a rookie, Reid said. "You've got to go through all the steps, with the young guys."
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg agreed that the lesson was "practice is important," that more preparation is always better, for a young player.
McCoy also agreed. He said when you practice something, "you know what's going to happen," unlike when you're reading a playbook or trying to learn something by watching someone else do it. But McCoy said another factor for him is that he simply plays better when he plays more - if he's alternating series, as was the case early in the season, sitting down for a long chunk of time, he doesn't get into the flow as easily.
When you know you're the starter, McCoy said, "you're going to get to warm up, get a couple of carries, get a little bit in the mix. I think when you come off the bench, you know you're going to play, but you don't know really when, what time in the game, what quarter, so it's kind of different."
McCoy's 99 rushing yards last week at Chicago were a career high, and his 20 carries matched his high, achieved Sept. 27 against Kansas City (84 rushing yards that day). In Chicago, McCoy atoned for an early fourth-quarter fumble by zipping 10 yards through the left side for the game-winning touchdown, on the very next series.
"It was pretty cool. I didn't expect to carry the ball that much, but it felt good, man, it felt like the old days at Pitt," McCoy said.
The old days at Pitt, the season would have been over about now, and practice would have started weeks later than training camp did. The Eagles are most dependent on McCoy at the exact point where you might expect a 21-year-old rookie to hit the mental and physical wall vets talk about, when a player is transitioning to a 16-game season. Remember, with Westbrook recovering from June ankle surgery, McCoy took more camp reps and played more in the preseason than he would have otherwise.
"So far, I feel I'm holding up pretty well," McCoy said. "I'm just starting to get to the point where I'm sore [more than briefly after games]. The more I start playing, the more blocking, and getting tackled, stuff like that, it starts to wear on you. But right now, I'm feeling fine."
Wideout DeSean Jackson went through the same process last year, depended upon as a primary weapon as a rookie, facing the longer season for the first time.
"The biggest advice I can honestly say is just to go out there and play free, not think of too many things, let the game come to you," Jackson said. "You've got to trust your instincts . . . The long season, you can't prepare him for that. It's definitely going to be tough. Just keep his body healthy, that kind of stuff."
This week will be the first time McCoy has seen an opponent a second time. The last meeting with the Redskins, Oct. 26, was the night when Westbrook suffered his first concussion, midway through the first quarter. McCoy ended up getting 19 touches - 14 carries, for 37 yards, and five catches for 30 - but he was not as productive as he has been when preparing as a starter.
"I know some of their tendencies, some of their blitzes and whatnot, and also some of their players - how they play. I think it helps me out a lot," McCoy said. "It's different, though. It's weird, to play a team twice in the same season."
McCoy said he remembers the Redskins as "an aggressive group," particularly No. 59, middle linebacker London Fletcher, the guy whose knee collided with Westbrook's head.
Mornhinweg yesterday said Washington's defense, officially ranked fourth in the NFL, is "fast and physical."
"You could argue this is the best defense in the league," Mornhinweg said.
He said Washington defensive coordinator Greg Blache's system is relatively straightforward.
"When you do it that way, you are very good at what you do, and there are very few mistakes," Mornhinweg said. *