Forget about the embarrassment of the 2011 season. This team can’t possibly be as bad again.
Each player had a full off-season to work with his position coach. There were no holdouts. Multiple stars received off-season contract extensions. There are no free agent acquisitions looking for a one-year stint to improve their career. Even the incompetent defensive coordinator has had an off-season–his first, actually–to learn the x’s and o’s of coaching an NFL defense.
The purpose of this upcoming series is to rank the 10 most important players to the 2012 Eagles. These players were chosen for a number of reasons. Obviously they are all talented starters, but it’s also worth looking at the backups. If this player goes down for the year in week three, who will step up and perform?
As all of my lists go, this one will begin at the bottom and work its way to the top.
2. LeSean McCoy
I am not a fan of running backs. I think it is one of the most overrated positions on a football team.
How many times does a starting running back go down and the backup running back steps in and the offense doesn’t miss a beat? The Washington Redskins have four running backs who could start on any given week this year. That could never happen with almost any other position.
My exception, however, is when you have an elite running back.
LeSean McCoy is an elite running back. You could argue that he is the best in the National Football League. Personally, I think Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, Arian Foster, and Adrian Peterson are a little bit better (and maybe Jamaal Charles). But the difference between McCoy and the league’s top running back is virtually non-existent. It’s that close.
Last season, McCoy was the best player on the offense, with the exception of left tackle Jason Peters. In 15 games, McCoy rushed 273 times for 1309 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also caught 48 passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns, and he fumbled just once all year.
In 2012, McCoy will have to play without the services of Peters, who ruptured his Achilles tendon in March. Instead he will have King Dunlap, an unproven veteran, starting, and the Eagles have already said that they won’t be able to do the same things with Dunlap that they did with Peters.
But if Michael Vick is injured, which could easily happen, the Eagles will heavily rely on McCoy to take the pressure off of rookie backup quarterback Nick Foles.
Last year, McCoy didn’t have much help by his backups. Veteran Ronnie Brown was an embarrassment and rookie Dion Lewis was still developing. This year, the Eagles hope that either Lewis or rookies Bryce Brown and Chris Polk develops into a reliable backup to help take the pressure off McCoy.
Head coach Andy Reid has already stated that he wants to limit McCoy’s touches this season, and I think that’s a good idea. McCoy is 24 years old and has never had a major injury. There’s no point in overworking him and risking an injury.
That doesn’t mean he isn’t valuable though. He is the key to winning games in the fourth quarter. His ability to run out the clock makes him the Mariano Rivera of the NFL.
He is the only running back in the history of the league with four career rushing touchdowns of more than 45 yards in the fourth quarter. He achieved that total by age 23.
Take a look at what McCoy did against the Dallas Cowboys on December 12th, 2010. The Eagles held a 30-27 lead against the Cowboys with four minutes left in the game. McCoy carried for three straight plays, and gained 12, 19, and 13 yards. That sealed a victory, as the Eagles ran down the clock in the final two minutes.
That’s just one example. He does that all the time.
McCoy is at his peak in the fourth quarter when the rest of the players are more tired. I don’t trust the Eagles to run out the clock with Vick’s passing. I can just see an interception happening. But pound the defense with McCoy, and the ball game is over.
If McCoy went down with an injury, I’m not sure either of the other three running backs could perform as well in the fourth quarter. In fact, I’m not sure any running back in the league could perform as well in the game’s final minutes. There is no more crucial situation than a one-score game in the final few minutes and that’s where McCoy is at his best.
This article was written by Bryn Swartz, the top writer for the Philadelphia Eagles and a featured NFL columnist on Rant Sports. Bryn has written more than 1000 articles in less than two years as a member of Rant Sports. His blog, Eagles Central, was named the 2010 Ballhyped Sports Blog of the Year. You can follow Bryn on Twitter by clicking here and here. To read a portfolio of Bryn’s best work, click here.