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NFL Playoff Preview: Eagles running back LeSean McCoy is a problem; do the Saints have answers?

Anwar S. Richardson
Shutdown Corner

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LeSean McCoy

Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy unveiled a championship belt on Sunday after winning this year’s rushing title.

It is hard to blame him for being flamboyant.

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles has received plenty of attention for throwing 27 touchdowns, two interceptions, and owning a league-high 119.2 passer rating during the regular season. Receiver DeSean Jackson finished with a career-high 1,332 receiving yards and nine touchdowns (second time in his career). Jackson is arguably the flashiest player on the Eagles.

Without McCoy, however, Philadelphia may not be playing against the New Orleans Saints in Saturday’s NFC wild-card game.

McCoy finished the regular season with 1,607 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, plus 539 receiving yards and two touchdowns. His per game rushing average (100.4) was a full 10 yards more than Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson (90.4) and better than Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles (85.8). McCoy’s 2,146 total yards beat Charles by 166.

In addition, McCoy was named NFC Offensive Player of the Month in December. During Philadelphia’s 4-1 finish, McCoy led the NFL with 598 rushing yards (119.6 per game) and 738 scrimmage yards (147.6 per game) as his team won the NFC East. He scored five touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving) in December.

"You can never be comfortable, there are always guys each year trying to come for that crown, that spot," McCoy said. "Myself, I'm still trying to be the best I can be and there is still so much room in my game for improvement. Each time I get a chance to get better I do that."

Eagles coach Chip Kelly has relied upon McCoy in the fourth quarter, and the running back currently has seven fourth-quarter TD runs of 40 or more yards in his career. While many NFL observers use the word “clutch” to describe quarterbacks, the same term can be applied toward McCoy.

“I think (a running back can be clutch),” McCoy said. “The more touches, the more plays you run the ball, the more comfortable you get. You can see how the defense adjusts and feel them out.

“(Fourth quarter rushing) is something we worked on. We ran the ball a lot under center and were very successful on the ground. It’s all about showing the defense different things, different looks, and giving them a lot to prepare for.”

McCoy’s preparedness arguably helped Foles transition into a starting quarterback.

Foles took over for quarterback Michael Vick earlier this season and has been one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. In just his 9th NFL start, Foles became the seventh player in league history to throw for seven touchdowns in one game at Oakland (11/3) and had his jersey, cleats and seventh TD football put on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Nevertheless, Foles credits McCoy with Philadelphia’s offensive success.

“LeSean is a great player,” Foles said. “He’s extremely important, and he’s done a great job this year. He makes plays, he’s done a great job in pass protection. The NFL’s league leading rusher – that’s a great accomplishment for him. But LeSean will also tell you that it’s a great job by our O-line. They’ve done a great job of blocking for him and giving him holes.

"When Chris Polk and Bryce Brown have gone in, they’ve done a tremendous job as well of when he’s out of the game, still being a great run threat because those are very talented backs. I think those three guys have done a tremendous job in the running game as well as our O-line and receivers blocking downfield.”

McCoy’s next opportunity to excel will occur at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday.

New Orleans’ defense was one of the worst units last season, but is currently ranked fourth after the addition of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. The Saints’ biggest defensive flaw is allowing 111 yards per game, which is ranked 14th in the NFL.

“I think there are a couple things that are misleading,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “I think, number one, we talked about it as a team, when you really study Philadelphia, statically the pass defense numbers suggest that they’re in the bottom part of the league, and yet a lot of those numbers come from teams being behind and throwing the football. That’s pretty common.

“With regards to the run defense, I felt that’s something as the season’s gone on, probably the last half of the season, we’ve been real good with. This is a unique offense and the type of runs you’re getting compared to a more conventional run list you might see on a week-to-week basis, so finding your gaps and being on top of where the runner is, all of those things are important.”

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Anwar S Richardson is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at NFLAnwar@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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