Coming into Week 7, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy was averaging a robust 145 total yards per game. With his lightning-quick feet and uncanny vision, McCoy is really what makes the Eagles’ offense tick.
Having struggled against shifty running backs in the past, things weren’t looking up for the Dallas defense in their effort to contain Shady. But linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter rose to the challenge, pairing up to stop McCoy before he could really get going. When it was all said and done, McCoy had his worst game on the year in terms of total yards.
The Cowboys’ defense not only did an awesome job of containing McCoy on the ground, but they were also extremely effective in pass defense. McCoy caught six passes, but he managed to take them for just 26 total yards.
Containing the Edges
The Cowboys halted McCoy because they played extremely disciplined run defense. McCoy is the “King of the Cutback,” so the ‘Boys did everything they could to not over-pursue, nearly always having a defender sealing each edge.
That was apparent early in the second quarter. The Eagles lined up in a Shotgun Trips formation.
They ran their patented read-option, with Shady flowing away from the “Trips” toward the boundary. The Cowboys did a good job of moving to the ball without giving McCoy room to cut back.
With defenders playing with outside leverage in both directions, McCoy had no choice but to keep it inside, picking up just a couple yards.
Just one play later, Philly ran the same concept to the opposite side of the field. They again lined up in “Trips,” this time using a tight end in-line opposite the three-receiver side.
Again, the edge defenders maintained their leverage so as to not allow Shady to bounce anything outside.
Again, he had nowhere to run.
This type of defensive concept is why we saw Sean Lee total 11 tackles while the starting outside linebackers combined for two (yes two) tackles. It was obvious that the outside defenders were playing not to make tackles at any cost, but rather to make sure McCoy couldn’t turn a would-be two-yard gain into a 40-yard run.
That idea is reflected in this pie chart.
Of the tackles made by the Cowboys’ 11 starters, only 15 percent combined came from the defensive ends and outside linebackers. Meanwhile, Sean Lee had 27.5 percent of the tackles by himself. He and the secondary combined to make 72.5 percent of the tackles. That’s what you’d expect when the perimeter defenders are playing disciplined run defense, extending plays instead of forcing the issue.
Grounding the Air Attack
Heading into this contest, I thought McCoy had a solid chance to really decimate the Dallas defense as a pass-catcher. The ‘Boys probably knew that, too, but they still didn’t do anything too unique in defending Shady. There were times when a cornerback dropped down onto him because the Cowboys were in Cover 2, but for the most part, McCoy was covered by Sean Lee or Bruce Carter.
The Eagles tried to get McCoy singled up on Carter down the sideline on a few occasions, using the running back on wheel routes out of the backfield.
Trying to mount a scoring drive late in the first half, the Eagles ran McCoy out of the backfield, where he was indeed facing Carter in man coverage. Quarterback Nick Foles had a clean pocket from which to throw.
Nonetheless, Carter’s coverage was perfect. He let Shady reach his hip before turning and running like a defensive back, forcing McCoy to the sideline as the ball was in the air.
Carter was flagged once for holding, but he and Lee teamed up to perform extremely well in coverage. Despite coming into the game as one of the worst linebacker corps in the NFL in terms of defending the pass, Lee and Carter gave up four completions on eight targets against the Eagles, allowing only 10 yards (1.3 YPA).
That’s one of the reasons that McCoy was so inefficient. The Cowboys not only limited his total yardage, but they also turned him into an ineffective offensive weapon on a per-touch basis.
As much as Foles played poorly for Philadelphia, it was the Cowboys’ ability to stifle LeSean McCoy that was most valuable in Week 7.