Patriots' defense keying on Eagles RB McCoy
FOXBOROUGH, Mass.—The New England Patriots aren't certain whether Michael Vick or Vince Young will be playing quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.
One thing is for sure, though: LeSean McCoy will be in the backfield, and that's enough to get the attention of the defense.
"This is by far the most elusive back that we've been against so far this season," Patriots defensive end Andre Carter said. "Looking at film, it looks like he'll lose yards to gain yards, then those are the tackles on a running back that you hate.
"Just as a defense, we always mention just kind of swarming and gang tackling, and that's what it's going to take for four quarters."
Vick, whose sensational season in 2010 led to the Eagles (4-6) signing him to a lucrative long-term contract, has two broken ribs and missed last week's win against the New York Giants. He has yet to practice any drills this week and is questionable on the Eagles' injury report.
Young could make his second start of the season after stepping in last week and leading the Eagles to a 17-10 victory, perhaps a pivotal win that kept their playoff dreams alive.
Philadelphia coach Andy Reid said Young has taken all the reps with the first-team offense in Vick's absence this week.
Young might not be as versatile as Vick, but both are effective as runners.
Combine that with McCoy, who has scored a rushing or receiving touchdown in nine of the Eagles' 10 games this season, and the New England defense is in for a test.
"Speed, that's all I can really tell you," Patriots defensive tackle Kyle Love said. "Speed kills. In this league, it definitely kills."
Despite the Patriots (7-3) having the worst pass defense in the league, allowing just shy of 300 yards a game, they expect a heavy dose of McCoy on Sunday.
And with good reason.
A dual threat to run or catch the ball out of the backfield since his rookie season in 2009, McCoy is the lone running back in the league this season to have already eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing while guiding the league's top-ranked rushing attack at 168.0 yards per game.
"He scores a lot of touchdowns, he's a great player," New England linebacker and defensive captain Jerod Mayo said. "He's never down until multiple people tackle him. He's a threat out of the backfield to catch the ball as well, so he's a great threat to the whole defense."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick thinks McCoy might even be better than former Philadelphia running back Brian Westbrook.
"This guy is pretty good," Belichick said. "I'd say he's quicker than Westbrook. Westbrook might be a little stronger, I don't know. This guy is a handful now.
"You don't see really anybody tackle him one-on-one. You need a group of guys around him. He gets hemmed in and then he gets out of it. He's got some running strength, too. He gets through the line. Guys get a shot at him and he's able to run through them."
While McCoy is on pace for a career high in yards, just 61 shy of his career best set last season with 1,080, and already has nearly as many rushing touchdowns (10) as his first two years combined (11), his receiving has tapered off a bit.
With 34 receptions for 198 yards and two touchdowns this season, he is well off his league-best reception total for a running back last season when he had 78 catches.
That drop-off means nothing to the Patriots.
"Anytime you get a guy like that, everybody has to be at the point of attack," Love said. "And if you're not at the point of attack, you're burned."
Carter knows that all too well after spending five seasons with the Washington Redskins, who play the Eagles twice a season. He is well aware of what players such as Westbrook and McCoy bring to an offense.
"We always just talk about gap control, playing physical, being consistent, making sure we have a strong seven-man front and just kind of continue on there," he said. "If somebody misses, somebody else will come in and rally. I think, so far, we've been consistent.
"Don't get me wrong; there's been a few plays where we know we have to tackle better. It happens every game, you just got to go get 'em."
The defense also will try to force turnovers against McCoy. However, he has no fumbles in 188 attempts this season and only three in 550 career carries.
"Anytime you got a guy that's loose with the ball, you've got to have an emphasis on getting to him and getting the ball out of him," Love said. "We'll try to do that on him or anybody else who has the ball on them. Anytime you see that, you have to get the ball."