By Chris Murray
The ability of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick to make plays with both his arm and his legs has had defenses scrambling to come up with a way to contain him while opening up the field for other weapons in the Eagles offense.
Two of the biggest beneficiaries of defensive nightmare scenario are wide receiver DeSean Jackson and running back LeSean McCoy. Both players have emerged as a dynamic weapons in the Birds offensive attack and are the main reasons why the Eagles are on the verge of another run through the playoffs.
The way Vick, Jackson, and McCoy have been playing for the Eagles in the last few weeks has led to comparisons to that hated Dallas Cowboys trio of Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmit Smith who dominated the NFL back in the 1990s by winning three Super Bowls. At the rate, they’re going at this point of the season, the Eagles “triplets” could just as lethal as that Dallas threesome.
When the Eagles (9-4) step on the field for Sunday’s NFC East showdown with the New York Giants (9-4), Jackson and McCoy will be a big part of the Birds game plan. Against a powerful Giants pass rush that sacked Vick three times when the teams met at Lincoln Financial, Jackson and McCoy will have to come up big.
The hottest player in the Eagles offensive arsenal has definitely been “Shady” McCoy. Playing on an Eagles team that prefers to put the ball in the air more often than not, McCoy has been the Birds’ feature back at those late in the game when you have the lead and clock management is needed.
It was McCoy’s running late in the fourth quarter that closed the door on the Cowboys in last Sunday’s 30-27 win. With 4:22 remaining, McCoy, who finished the game with 149 yards rushing on 16 carries, touched the ball five times for 56 yards (four rushing for 44 yards and one reception for six yards).
“I think any competitor wants to run the ball, especially at a time like that in the offense. You get the first down and ice the game,” McCoy said after the game. “Once we started rolling, we were rolling. We finished it. We put the foot on the gas and kept pushing away…Once we got it going, it was hard to stop us.”
Thanks to McCoy’s efforts, Dallas never saw the ball again. You would hope that pass-happy Andy Reid would finally realize that he needs to utilize McCoy’s talents as running back a little bit more in their second match against the Giants. That would probably slow down the Giants pass rush on Vick.
I’m not suggesting that the Giants aren’t going to their licks on Vick, but if the Eagles are giving the ball to McCoy in the running game about 20-25 games that might be enough to take some sting out of the Giants pass rush.
The last time, the Birds and Giants played each other, McCoy ran right up the middle of a blitzing Giants defense for a 50-yard touchdown that put the Eagles on for good late in the fourth quarter. Throughout the game, Vick had been harassed and hurried throughout the night by the New York defensive line, but McCoy’s run up the gut took the fight of the Giants defense.
So far this season the second-year back out of Pittsburgh has gained 972 yards rushing on 184 carries while averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Like his predecessor Brian Westbrook, McCoy has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, he leads the Eagles in receptions with 70 for 538 yards with a pair of touchdowns.
“Listen, we knew he could catch the football and we knew he could run the football,” Reid said after Sunday’s win over the Cowboys. “And (former Eagles running back) Brian Westbrook was a big part of this of kind of telling him the little ins and outs of it. And then (running backs coach) Ted (Williams) is a veteran coach for that position, so that’s helped. And then having (former Eagles running back) Duce (Staley) here, you know, Brian left, Duce comes back and he gets another little side of it from a player’s perspective.”
The Eagles have been effective at using McCoy on the screen pass against the blitz, something that you might see a lot in the Birds rematch against the Giants.
Since Vick has been the Eagles starting quarterback, DeSean Jackson has been one of his favorite receivers, especially on deep routes. In last Sunday’s win at Dallas, Vick and Jackson hooked for two passes that went beyond 50 yards including a spectacular 91-touchdown pass that gave the Eagles a fourth quarter lead they would never relinquish.
Jackson would finish that game with four receptions for 210 yards and a touchdown. If the Birds can establish a running game against Giants, you’re going to see Vick looking for Jackson with the deep ball.
You may not think much of Jackson’s 42 receptions, but he leads the team in receiving yardage with 972 yard and six touchdowns. He is averaging 21.1 yards per catch. Those numbers speak more to Jacksons’s ability to stretch the field while teammates Jason Avant and Jeremy Maclin probe the middle of the defense in the intermediate passing game.
“He’s talented. He works hard at it,” Avant said “If he continues to be humble, he can do a lot. It’s good to have somebody with his talent on our talent. If we can keep him away from penalties, we’ll be fine”
If there’s something that Reid and the Birds coaching staff frown upon with Jackson is flair for costly end zone celebrations. In the aftermath of his 91-yard touchdown pass against Dallas, Jackson walked and then bellyflopped backwards into the endzone, which caused a 15-yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff.
The signature game of the Vick to Jackson combination came in the Eagles big Monday Night win over the Washington Redskins. On the game’s first play, Vick hit Jackson with an 88-yard touchdown pass.
Vick by himself had a combined 413 yards (333 passing and 80 rushing) and threw four touchdown passes while scoring two more on the ground.
Meanwhile, Vick as a passer seems to improve with each game even in the midsts of all the elaborate defenses built to keep him from using his legs as a weapon.
Statistically, Vick has a 104.3 passer rating and has thrown 17 touchdown passes against three interceptions. But even more than his numbers, Vick’s resolve in the face of constant late hits and a plethora of defenses geared to stop him has helped the Eagles overcome late deficits in wins over the Giants, Texans, and Cowboys.
Vick’s unflappable belief in himself and the weapons around him is the thing that’s helped the Birds get through difficult times.
“Well, regardless of how the game goes or if you’re down by a certain margin,” Vick said. “I think you have to remain confident, remain poised, and believe in one another. That’s the one thing that we have—is trust—on this offense. And we believe we can get it done.”