By Ashley Dunkak
DETROIT (CBS DETROIT) – The Detroit Lions are no stranger to dangerous running backs, and they get to try to handle another one Sunday at Philadelphia.
The Lions have already faced three of the top five rushers in the league – Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, Washington’s Alfred Morris and Chicago’s Matt Forte. Now Detroit looks to contain LeSean McCoy of the Eagles. McCoy has 1,088 yards through the season’s first 12 games, second-most in the NFL behind Peterson.
Detroit’s track record against great running backs is solid this season. Peterson did the worst damage, scoring two touchdowns in a season-opening performance that included 18 carries for 93 yards. Morris carried the ball 15 times for 73 yards and a touchdown. In the first matchup between the Lions and Bears, Forte racked up 95 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, but in the rematch he rushed just 33 yards in 17 attempts.
Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy, one of the top 10 backs in the league, got loose for 99 yards on 23 carries in Green Bay but was stymied in Detroit, when he gained just 16 yards on 10 carries in the second meeting between the teams.
McCoy also gets the benefit of working in an offense currently piloted by one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league. Nick Foles, who began the season as the backup, has thrown 19 touchdowns and not been picked off even once. Michael Vick played his last game Oct. 27, and since Foles took over full-time, the Eagles are 4-0.
As solid as Foles has been, Lions head coach Jim Schwartz says McCoy is the central piece of the whole offense.
“You never know where he is going to break out,” Schwartz said. “They stretch the whole field horizontally with their run game. He can run inside and he can run outside … He also can run with power and he can break tackles.
“That run game is really what keeps them going and allows them to do some of the things they do, and no huddle puts a lot of pressure on the defense,” Schwartz said. “We’re going to have to do a good job of not just protecting our edges for the outside plays, but also defending him inside because he also runs the ball and it creates some big gaps on the inside. It’s a little bit like playing option teams. Everybody has responsibility.”
Cornerback Chris Houston said the speed at which the Eagles operate makes their offense unique.
“It’s a way different offense,” Houston said. “They want to hurry up and get the play snapped. They don’t want to allow you to change the defense or anything like that, so they want to hurry up, get to the line, snap the ball real quick, get the ball to him, play action and take shots.”
The speed and the nature of the spread offense will put stress on the Lions defense, testing the unit maybe as thoroughly as it has been tested all season. The Lions rank third in the NFL against the run, allowing just 82.7 yards on the ground per game, but they rank 28th in the NFL in pass defense, giving up 262.2 yards per game through the air.
“When you’re spread out, you’ve got to do a good job in space, you’ve got to do a good job tackling, you’ve got to do a good job covering one-on-one,” safety Glover Quin said, “They’ve got a bunch of options on every play. Everybody’s going to have to be on top of their game.
“They can do so much off one play they’re basically reading guys, so if a guy’s not in his gap or in his right spot, they’re going to hand it off to the run,” Quin added. “If a guy’s in the run, then they’re going to keep it and throw the ball. With the spread, they create a lot of one-on-one situations, a bunch of light boxes and things like that. Just got to be sound with what we’re doing, and we’ll be fine.”
Few would have expected Foles to be an upgrade over Vick, but the situation has worked out well for the Eagles.
“He’s obviously making some good decisions,” Quin said. “He’s not the runner Michael Vick is, but they’re winning games. He’s throwing the ball, so that’s got to be something that we get stopped along with LeSean McCoy in the run game.”