Eagles-Raiders matchup No. 1: Walker vs. McCoy

Eagles-Raiders Matchup No. 1: LeSean McCoy vs. Vance Walker

Eagles-Raiders matchup No. 1: Walker vs. McCoy
November 2, 2013, 12:15 pm
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LeSean McCoy averaged 6.0 yards per carry over the first four games, and 3.6 over the next four. (USATSI)

Editor’s note: This is the third part in a series that spotlights three Raiders-Eagles matchups to watch Sunday, 1:05 p.m., at Oakland Coliseum

[MATCHUP NO. 3: Darren McFadden vs. Bennie Logan]

[MATCHUP NO. 2: Jason Peters vs. Lamarr Houston]

Raiders DT Vance Walker vs. Eagles RB LeSean McCoy

Tale of the tape:

Walker (98): 6-foot-2, 305 pounds, fifth season, Georgia Tech
McCoy (25): 5-foot-11, 208 pounds, fifth season, Pittsburgh 

Eagles running back LeSean McCoy leads the NFL in rushing, more for what happened over the first six games than the last two. He averaged 6.0 yards per carry over the first four games, and 3.6 over the next four.

Big difference. That’s when the Eagles’ quarterback situation turned on its head. Coincidence? We think not.

Opponents have keyed on the run since Michael Vick’s injury woes began, and it’s worn on the shifty rusher. Opponents swarm McCoy at every turn, which has forced McCoy to press. That’s lead to consecutive weeks with 55 yards or less.

The talent, however, hasn’t left. The Raiders see him as the same threat he was earlier this season.

“He’s an outstanding running back,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “He’s a big-time player and a homerun threat every time he touches the ball. We have to understand what we’re dealing with there.”

The Raiders are dealing with an explosive rusher, especially between the tackles. He feasts inside, with quick moves that slip into the second level and beyond. He favors one gap above all else. He loves the crease between left tackle and left guard, where he averages 6.8 yards over 17 carries. He averages 5.7 yards per carry in the A gap next to it, areas that belong to Raiders defensive tackle Vance Walker.

That spells trouble for McCoy. The free-agent acquisition from Atlanta is the Raiders’ unsung hero, quietly dominating on the interior line. While McCoy has struggled over the past two weeks, Walker has thrived.

He has two sacks, a quarterback hit and nine hurries in that span, proof that he’s consistently collapsing pockets. He’s also had six “stops,” plays that Pro Football Focus considers and offensive failure.

“He’s smart, and he can play multiple positions and go to the right spot with power,” defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said. “You’re starting to see maybe even a little more of his quickness come out too. I’m proud of Vance. He’s doing well. He’s really coming into his own. He gets better every week. Hopefully he can continue that trend. I like where Vance is going.”

Walker is a pressing rusher’s worst enemy. McCoy is running laterally lately, trying to make play where there are few. That’s when Walker and the No. 6-ranked rushing defense is at its best. The Raiders have excelled setting an edge, forcing backs toward sure tackling linebackers.

The Raiders hope to make the Eagles one-dimensional, and Walker is essential to that effort.

“We’re facing a run-first offense,” Tarver said. “The keys are making sure we’re where we want to be in the run game, not where they want us to be — knocking people back and setting edge, We have to be sound for four quarters.”