How will Eagles distribute reps to save McCoy?

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How will Eagles distribute reps to save McCoy?

September 12, 2013, 2:15 pm
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LeSean McCoy's 31 carries vs. the Redskins were the most by an Eagles running back since Brian Westbrook's 33 in 2008. (USA Today Images)

LeSean McCoy had an incredible first game. You probably noticed.

McCoy rushed for 184 yards. That was tops in the NFL. He carried the ball 31 times while finishing with 32 total touches. Both of those were also the most in the league after Week 1.

It was a remarkable performance. But is it sustainable, and will the Eagles reduce his touches moving forward in order to keep McCoy fresh and on the field?

“Well, hold on, see,” McCoy said with a smirk when asked about his increased workload. “A couple of years ago, there was all the talk about ‘McCoy’s not touching the ball enough.’ Now I’m touching it too much. Which one is it?”

It was a good line, and it spoke to the overarching point: What’s the happy medium between too little work and too much?

McCoy’s 31 carries marked a career high. It was also the most carries by an Eagles’ running back since Brian Westbrook rushed 33 times against the Dallas Cowboys in 2008.

For a fan base that has been starved for a more pronounced running attack, the approach had to sate everyone’s appetite. But will the Eagles keep feeding McCoy that much, or do they plan to put more on Bryce Brown’s plate?

On Thursday, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur gave a quick nod to “balance” and “participation” and “good, explosive reps” from “everybody that’s in there.” But Shurmur also balked a bit at the idea that McCoy might not be able to touch the ball that many times over the course of the season and remain healthy. (For his part, McCoy repeatedly admitted “it is a long season.”)

As Shurmur put it: “It’s important that they all play. I don’t know what the good number is, but [McCoy] carried the ball quite a bit, and he’s no worse for wear.”

It was a bit of a departure –- the suggestion that McCoy is currently fine and therefore his workload is no great concern -– from what Chip Kelly said earlier in the week.

“We’ve got to do a better job of rotating some of those guys,” Kelly said. “We've talked about it as a staff. We need to see Bryce [Brown] a little bit more, we need to get Chris [Polk] in the game. We need to rotate our receivers a little bit more. When you're going to play that many snaps, you’ve got to make sure you don't run your own team into the ground."

Against Washington, the distribution was heavily in favor of McCoy. He was on the field for 65 snaps, or 81 percent of the Eagles’ offensive plays. Brown got 15 reps (19 percent), while Polk was active but didn’t take a snap with the offense.

On Sunday, the Eagles will face San Diego at Lincoln Financial Field. In their first game, the Chargers’ surrendered 120 rushing yards to the Houston Texans. Dynamic rusher Arian Foster was held to 57 yards on 18 carries (3.2 yards per attempt), but his backup, Ben Tate, managed 55 yards on nine carries (6.1 yards per attempt). As a team, the Texans averaged 4.3 yards per carry.

While the Chargers did a solid job against the Texans’ best running back, the overall effort put San Diego 25th among run defenses after one week. The question, once more, is how the Eagles plan to attack that unit. Will they put the majority of snaps on McCoy’s capable back and ask him to carry them again, or will they lighten the load and shift some of the heavy lifting to Brown?

In order to get others involved, Kelly said McCoy needs to take breathers and rest when he might be winded. McCoy admitted there were times against Washington when he was tired but stayed in the game.

“That's kind of getting those guys subbed in and out,” Kelly said about better balance in the backfield. “There were times they didn't want to come out. They've got to understand, if we're going to get that many snaps, we need to make sure we manage it so when we're in the fourth quarter we're fresher. That's a coaching deal with all of us, making sure we distribute those reps.”

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