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Midseason Report: Backfield

Posted Oct 18, 2012

Next up in our midseason report series is the backfield, where the Eagles have an All-Pro and four players in either their first or second season in the league. What are the three biggest questions facing the running backs and fullbacks? Let’s take a look …

1. Is LeSean McCoy Getting The Ball Enough?

Has any phrase become more ubiquitous during Andy Reid’s tenure as Eagles head coach than “run-pass balance?” Somehow, the tired critique that the Eagles don’t run the ball enough has arisen again this season, despite ample evidence to the contrary. To be fair, the urge to get the ball in LeSean McCoy’s hands as much as possible is understandable. He is, after all, perhaps the team’s best player and he’s coming off an All-Pro season in which he ran for 1,309 yards and scored a combined 20 touchdowns. But is he getting the ball enough this year?

That the Eagles have a Week 7 bye for the second straight season allows us to make an easy comparison to 2011. Through six games last season, McCoy ran the ball 105 times for 569 yards (5.4 yards per carry) and had 21 catches, to give him 126 total offensive touches. This year, he’s actually had 10 more total touches through six games, rushing 111 times for 459 yards (4.1 yards per carry) and catching 25 passes. The difference, then, is simply in the production, where perhaps McCoy and the rushing offense have been hurt a bit by an unsettled offensive line that no longer features Jason Peters. As for how he ranks among running backs league-wide, McCoy’s 136 offensive touches through six games are second only to Houston’s Arian Foster. 

Shady Through Week 6
Year Rushes Rushing Yards (YPC)
Off. Touches
2011 105 569 (5.4) 126
2012 111 459 (4.1) 136

What should we expect from Shady throughout the rest of the season? Last year, McCoy’s workload stayed remarkably consistent after the bye. In his final nine games of 2011, McCoy averaged 21.7 touches per game on offense as opposed to 20.8 touches per game in the first six games, though his yards per carry did drop from 5.4 before the bye to 4.4 post-bye. The hope is that trend will reverse this season as the offensive line improves. McCoy should also have an opportunity to start fast, as the Eagles open the post-bye schedule with the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints, who rank 31st and 30th respectively in rushing yards allowed per play.

Shady Per Game
Year Rushes Rushing Yards
Receptions
2009 9.7 39.8 2.5
2010 13.8 72.0 5.2
2011 18.2 87.3 3.2
2012 18.5 76.5 4.2

2. How Good Is Stanley Havili?

The Eagles made the decision in the offseason to give Stanley Havili, a seventh-round pick in 2011, the opportunity to win the fullback job. After an impressive offseason, the former Southern California star took hold of the job and has drawn rave reviews from coaches and teammates ever since. In fact, McCoy called Havili the best fullback he’s ever played with at any level, high praise for a player who spent all of his rookie season on the practice squad.

"I don't believe I'm surprised because when we acquired Stanley, right off the bat you could see the natural instincts," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. "He's an instinctive player. He can do an awful lot. He's got excellent hands. He can run the football. He's an excellent blocker. So, he is an excellent player for us and has done a fine job at the fullback spot and we'll continue to use him in many different ways."

Havili has impressed the coaches enough that they’re trusting him to be a big part of the offense. He’s played exactly 20 snaps a game for the Eagles (just over 26 percent of the team’s offensive snaps), almost double the 10.8 snaps per game that Owen Schmitt played for the Eagles last season. It’s difficult to judge how fullbacks stack up against the rest of the league, but Havili comes in as the fourth-best player at the position this season according to ProFootballFocus, who also grade Havili as the third-best blocker at the position thus far.

Havili’s versatility has also been helpful for the Eagles. In addition to his ability to pass protect and clear space for McCoy, Havili can be trusted to carry the ball if need be (five carries for 21 yards) and he’s an impact player on special teams, ranking fourth on the team with 46 special teams production points. All in all, it’s been a very encouraging start to Havili’s career. Fullback has always been a bit of an unsettled position for the Eagles under Reid, but, barring injury, it should be a while before they face much concern about fullback moving forward.

3. Who Will Emerge Behind McCoy?

As awesome as McCoy has been through his first three seasons as the Eagles’ lone feature back, the Eagles haven’t gotten much production from the running back behind McCoy. In 2010, Mike Bell began the season as McCoy’s primary backup and rushed 16 times for 28 yards (1.8 yards per carry). In one of the more underrated trades in franchise history, general manager Howie Roseman shipped Bell to Cleveland for Jerome Harrison, who exploded for 239 yards on 40 carries (6.0 yards per carry), including two games in which he rushed for over 90 yards.

The next season, Ronnie Brown came to town as McCoy’s backup and 42 times for 136 yards (3.2 yards per carry). The Eagles had a midseason deal worked out to bring Harrison back from the Detroit Lions in exchange for Brown, but the Eagles’ doctors discovered a tumor in Harrison’s brain, and the running back, while healthy, has yet to return to the playing field.

This year, the Eagles have three young running backs behind McCoy. Dion Lewis, a fifth-round pick in 2011, entered the season as the expected No. 2 running back after rushing 23 times for 102 yards (4.4 yards per carry) as a rookie. But Lewis, fully healthy, has only played in one of six games for the Eagles thus far. Instead, the job of top backup has gone to seventh-round rookie Bryce Brown, who has shown some explosiveness in his few opportunities. The rookie has an encouraging skill set, though he’s only rushed for 51 yards on 19 carries (2.7 yards per carry). It does seem like only a matter of time before the speedy Brown will break a big run. Finally, there’s undrafted rookie Chris Polk, who has been active for five of six games but has yet register a carry. All signs point to Brown retaining the backup job for the rest of the season, but don’t rule out another attempt by Roseman and the Eagles front office to bolster the position midseason.

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