The Phiadelphia Eagles led the NFL in rushing in 2013. LeSean McCoy led all players in rushing yards. The explosive Eagles offense was built around a dynamic ground attack. That certainly hasn't been the case this year. The Eagles are 23rd in the league in rushing and McCoy hasn't run for even 85 yards in a game. The lack of a good ground game has frustrated everyone, from Chip Kelly to McCoy to fans and the media.
The media has peppered Kelly with questions about McCoy. It isn't that they are "out to get him", but rather that something being wrong with McCoy is a simple story line that is easier to follow and write about. Instead, Kelly talks about how the run game has several components and there are multiple issues. This isn't as easy to follow or as simple to write about. But it is true.
The offensive line has been a mess this year. They aren't getting push and are also missing assignments and making simple errors. Tight end Brent Celek had his best season as a blocker in 2013, but he's been erratic. Jason Avant was a great blocker from the slot position last year. Rookie Jordan Matthews is in there now, but isn't anywhere close to Avant as a blocker.
We can't let McCoy off the hook either. He's got a part in this. McCoy hasn't adjusted his running style to the sloppy blocking. He is still trying to move laterally so that he can find wide open spaces and break off big runs. When the guys in front of you are struggling to block, you must run more north-south. You need to get the 2, 3 and 4-yard gains. Get enough of those and the 10 and 15-yard runs will follow. Darren Sproles has been more effective running behind the same line in part due to the fact he does hit the hole quickly and isn't looking for space (which simply isn't there).
That's the bad news.
The good news is that the Eagles showed real progress on Sunday. There were some signs that the run game just might get going. The Eagles threw the ball a lot in the first half and led the game 20-7. The team ran nine times for 52 yards in the opening half.
In the second half, while trying to extend the lead and control the game, the Eagles ran 24 times for 93 yards. The Rams knew the run was coming and still struggled to stop it. The run blocking in the second half was the best of the season and that is hugely important. If the guys up front can win, it makes anyone running behind them all the more effective.
Lane Johnson played his first game of the year and was a key factor. His presence allowed Todd Herremans to move back to right guard. Johnson had a couple of outstanding blocks in the fourth quarter. He got good movement off the ball. Herremans had some good seal blocks.
Left guard Matt Tobin made his second NFL start and showed progress. There was one run play when he blocked three different players. There was one play where the nose tackle was engaged with the center and Tobin hit the guy from the side and sent him flying. This is the kind of active, physical and aggressive play the Eagles have needed up front.
Jason Peters had some terrific blocks. The Eagles seemed to run away from him more often that not. He did a good job of keeping the backside clean with reach blocks, which isn't the easiest thing to do. That gives the runner a cutback lane. Peters caved in a defensive lineman a couple of times with crushing down blocks on runs that did come to his side.
Center David Molk was the weak link up front, but still had his moments. He is quick off the ball and can be pretty good at reach blocks. He just isn't Jason Kelce good. Molk will pull on some outside plays. He's athletic enough to get out front, but he's not great at blocking on the move. I do think he can get better with the more he plays.
Even the skill players were good. Celek had his best blocking game of the year. I have no idea why, but he did. James Casey was used in some sets in the second half and did a good job. Even the wide receivers had some good blocks. Jeremy Maclin sustained a block for a while on a 19-yard run by McCoy to Maclin's side.
We also can't leave out McCoy. For a while, he was dancing too much. Once the line got going in the second half, he started running more north-south and you could finally see flashes of last year. The line was getting movement and McCoy was running effectively between the tackles. He did try to get outside a couple of times and was inches away from breaking a couple of long runs, but just couldn't get by that last defender.
The Rams don't have a good run defense, but they crowded the line of scrimmage in the second half and tried to shut down the Eagles ground attack. The Eagles were able to move the ball, but still need to get better. It just felt good to see the run game showing progress. The offensive line came alive. The skill players blocked well. And Shady McCoy started to look like Shady McCoy. That might be the best news of all.