THERE WERE other running backs, with more Pro Bowls on their resumes and more millions in their bank accounts, who failed to accomplish in 60 minutes against the Cowboys what LeSean McCoy did in 15 minutes last night. And by game's end, it was clear that the previously impenetrable Cowboys defense could do little to contain the Eagles running back.
"Maybe my line's a little better," McCoy said after the Eagles' 34-7 win over the Cowboys.
Or maybe McCoy's a little better. San Francisco's Frank Gore and St. Louis' Steven Jackson, rushers who have a combined five Pro Bowls between them, both failed to eclipse 4 yards per carry and combined for 111 yards against the Cowboys defense, which entered yesterday ranked No. 1 against the rush in the NFL.
McCoy averaged 6.2 yards per carry, finishing last night's game with 30 carries for 185 yards - both career highs - and two touchdowns. Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's unit had previously held opposing offenses to 69.7 yards per game. McCoy had 80 yards at the end of the first quarter.
"That's a hell of a back they've got there," Ryan said. "The guy is coming out of every angle there is known to man. He's a special player."
Eagles coach Andy Reid concurred, saying after the game that McCoy is playing "as well as any running back there is." Told of this statement, McCoy's eyes widened. He asked when Reid made the declaration and said he needs to give Reid a "slick" response upon their next encounter. But it's a sentiment that McCoy believes, and it's revealed in the statistics, where McCoy is among the top running backs in every rushing category.
"I feel like I'm one of the elite guys," McCoy said. "I think each player has a fight in them, wants to be considered as one of the best players in this league. I feel like every game is an opportunity to prove myself as a guy who is kind of underrated."
McCoy now has 58 carries in the past two games. Both set career marks and both were Eagles wins, although McCoy does not anticipate a philosophical shift in Reid's offense. He pointed to other weapons on the offense as evidence that the coaching staff would - and should - spread the ball around.
"You're not going to force anything," Reid said. "If the run game's not working and the pass game is, you're going to throw the football. And if they're both working, that's a beautiful thing."
But there was no better evidence of the Eagles' confidence in McCoy than the fact that they continued handing him ball last night. Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg possessed a convenient excuse to abandon the run and try to beat the Cowboys' secondary considering the efficiency of Dallas' run defense this season. In his tenure in Philadelphia, Reid never required a legitimate excuse to forget the running plays on his playsheet. But the Eagles gave the ball to McCoy on seven of the game's first 15 plays, showing a commitment and reaping the benefits.
And McCoy's high carry total was not simply the case of playing with a lead, which is often the reason runners amass carries. In an Oct. 8 loss to San Francisco - the NFL's No. 2-ranked rush defense - McCoy rushed for only 18 yards on nine carries. The Eagles surrendered a 23-3 lead in the second half, when they could have watched the clock wind down by handing McCoy the ball. With evidence that the Eagles could run the ball against the Cowboys last night, McCoy carried 17 times in the second half.
"Up by that many points, you really kind of got to ice the game," McCoy said. "Because we learned from the mistakes before, when we were up, when we didn't execute."
McCoy's evening also can be viewed as endorsement for this incarnation of the Eagles' offensive line, which opened holes for him throughout the game. McCoy was quick to laud his linemen, and he believes the leaner, more athletic group suits his running style.
Through the season's first six games, the Eagles have shuffled linemen because of injury and performance. Last night, they finally played with the five-man group they settled upon at the conclusion of training camp: Jason Peters and Todd Herremans at tackles; Evan Mathis and Danny Watkins at guards; and Jason Kelce at center. Mathis pledged confidence in the other combinations this year, but admitted it would be foolish to suggest that the return of Peters didn't help.
"LeSean McCoy did an outstanding job of trusting the playcall, knowing where the holes were going to be," Mathis said. "And if we didn't get it done, he's the type of back that can sometimes just make something out of nothing."
The best news for McCoy is that the Eagles face a top 10 rushing defense only two more times: Nov. 27 against New England and Dec. 24 at Dallas. But as last night revealed, the Cowboys are not impenetrable - and it matters little what the opposing defense is ranked as long as the Eagles continue feeding McCoy the football.