LeSean McCoy is already one of the top backs in football.
But hes still learning.
McCoy ran 27 times against the Dolphins last Sunday in the Eagles win but picked up just 38 yards for a measly average of 1.41 yards per carry.
I played terrible, McCoy said. My worst game of my NFL career. I just tried to make too much happen.
Spinning, cutting back, making something out of nothing. Thats what has made the 23-year-old stand out in his third NFL season. Hes second in the NFL and first in the NFC with 1,172 yards rushing but says he still needs to learn.
There were some lanes there, I was just trying to make too much happen instead of just taking the two yarder or the one yarder that was there, you know, evening it out, McCoy said. I just have to learn that sometimes you cant do all that, sometimes you cant be the big playmaker.
But theres no question McCoy is a playmaker. He has scored 14 rushing touchdowns and three receiving and has a chance to break the Eagles single-season record this year. He also leads the NFL with 13 runs of 20-plus yards.
McCoy said he didnt look like a guy who could be the NFLs rushing champ on Sunday vs. Miami. The game plan was for the Eagles to give him the ball (and they did, 27 times on the ground) and McCoy said he didnt feel like he lived up to his part of the deal, mainly because he tried to make too much out of nothing.
An important thing is this league is being satisfied with the little runs, the twos the ones, just even getting back to the line of scrimmage, McCoy said. I just hate negative runs.
If McCoy hates negative runs, it makes sense that he called the Dolphins game the worst of his pro career. Eight of his 27 runs went for negative yardage, most of which happened because McCoy wouldnt give up on a play.
McCoys first two runs against Miami gave him 20 yards. His next 25 yielded just 18. The Eagles star running back admitted that as the Dolphins kept shutting him down, he became getting more and more frustrated and then tried to do even more.
I was losing yardage trying to make plays, he said. Once they stopped me a couple of times, I got angry, frustrated. Im a competitor. I like to compete. I just tried to make too many things happen, trying to break too many tackles and spin out and do extra stuff. In this league you cant do too many things like that and be successful.
But those cutbacks, spin moves and magical plays are what caught the eye of the Eagles when McCoy entered the NFL from Pittsburgh.
I do remember him coming out and he came out with an awful lot of very good backs, I liked them all very much, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. But I remember I liked him the best for us and I just thought he was dynamic, changes direction, the way he catches the football, the way he makes people miss, these sort of things, I thought he was just a dynamic player.
So if he starts playing it safe, wouldnt that take away from what makes McCoy such a dynamic back in the first place?
As in many things, according to offensive lineman Evan Mathis, there needs to be a balance.
For a lot of backs in this league, a lot of them can only survive on trusting the initial play call, Mathis said. LeSean has the unique ability to make something out of nothing when the play call doesnt work, which usually involves cutting back.
The downside of that ability is if he trusts that ability over the initial play call.
Mathis said that McCoy can still utilize his unique ability but that trusting the play call should always come first. Then, McCoys improvisation can take hold.
What made McCoy really frustrated about the Dolphins game is that he knew he was going to get fed the ball a lot and he couldnt make big things happen. McCoy has had as few as nine carries in a game and as many as 30 in a game this season.
I didnt feel like I held up to my part, he said.
Often in his young career, McCoy has been compared to NFL all-time great Barry Sanders. Thats who the kid from Harrisburg, Pa. tried to model his game after. McCoy wore No. 20 in high school and admitted he even cried when Sanders retired at a young age.
McCoy wanted to be Barry Sanders, and maybe hes on his way. Sanders also had some negative runs in his career when he was trying to make something out of nothing.
Its weird because a lot of times it works out, McCoy said ponderously.
McCoy, indeed, has plenty to learn and he thinks it all starts with knowing when to give up on a play.
When the defense has you, the fight is over, McCoy said. If its a two-yard gain, just take it. I have to learn how to take the small runs.
He already has the big ones figured out.
E-mail Dave Zangaro at firstname.lastname@example.org