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McCoy keeps Eagles moving

| Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
The Steelers' Larry Foote drops Eagles runnng back LeSean McCoy for a first quarter loss at Lincoln Financial Field Aug. 9, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

In a season in which the Philadelphia Eagles have overcome self-inflicted wounds to manufacture a 3-1 start, former Pitt running back LeSean McCoy continues to establish himself as perhaps the most versatile running back in the NFL.

While quarterback Michael Vick was impatient and aimless in tossing six interceptions over the first two games, McCoy almost single-handedly kept the wheels on the wagon. He energized the ground game and bailed out an oft-hurried Vick in the passing game.

McCoy has squeezed out 384 yards on 81 carries and has 14 receptions. Beyond the numbers, however, he impacts a potentially explosive offense, partly because he's consistently effective both running and receiving, which prevents defenses from targeting the elusive Vick and receiver DeSean Jackson.

“I'm a big believer in good teams find ways to win and bad teams find ways to lose,” McCoy said. “Last year some of these tough games we would have lost. There's a difference, and we're a little more focused this year.”

More importantly, the Eagles enter Sunday's against the Steelers at Heinz Field atop the NFC East mostly because McCoy has performed like a quarter-miler who gathers a second wind over the final 100 meters. He has been at his best in the second half, including a strong finishing kick in the Eagles' 19-17 victory over the New York Giants last week.

In the past, the Eagles would abandon the ground game if it was stuck in neutral. Now, McCoy has been tasked with spearheading a punishing ground game down the stretch.

“We've been sticking with it. The guys up front are blocking very well and giving me some creases to run through and given me one-on-one opportunities with the defenders,” said McCoy, the league's third-leading rusher. “We've just been rolling. I think so far we've been very productive offensively, especially in the running game.

“Sometimes I get so carried away with trying to make yards and plays on my own instead of just sticking with the runs. The offensive line opens up some great holes, and I have to be patient and let things develop for me.”

The Steelers are expected to have linebacker James Harrison and safety Troy Polamalu in the lineup. They'll be back just in time, considering Oakland's Darren McFadden gutted them for 113 yards — including a 64-yard touchdown run — in the Raiders' 34-31 upset victory two weeks ago.

“Everything you read about the Steelers being physical, you see it on tape,” McCoy said. “It doesn't help that they lost Harrison and Polamalu, two of the best players in the league. I am sure they will be fine when they get those guys back.”

Harrison has seen enough film to know the Eagles have a different mindset than the team that failed to recover from an uneven start last season. He knows, too, they have a running back who is eager to run wild in his return to a field where became one of the Panthers' most prolific runners.

“(McCoy) is one of the most dangerous runner and receivers out of the backfield,” Harrison said. “I don't feel like they are leaning on one more than the other.

“I don't seeing them shying away from anything they plan to do. The more they run, they more they succeed at it. We expect them to run the entire game.”

McCoy grinds out the tough yards between tackles. But his ability to make something out of nothing is what gets the Steelers' attention.

“He works best when he can change directions,” defensive end Ziggy Hood said. “We have to make sure we contain him on both sides.

“We have to get everyone to the ball. He can always turn a busted play into something positive.”

McCoy has been especially effective with screen passes. But what concerns the Steelers is how McCoy ripped off big gains when the Giants failed to seal the boundaries on stretch plays and sweeps, particularly in the second half.

For McCoy, it was a matter of finding his groove.

He said the more touches he gets the more comfortable he gets. He figures out the defense's weakness, then exploits it.

“Some teams don't need to run it that much for their guys to get comfortable,” McCoy said. “I'm one of those guys where I don't need 100 carries to get warmed up.

“I've been in this offense so long that I'm used to it. That's how we work. I think every back and every team is different.”

Ralph N. Paulk is staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rpaulk@tribweb.com or 412-320-7923.

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