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Breaking down the LeSean McCoy for Kiko Alonso trade

Here to give his take on the big Bills-Eagles trade this week: Brandon Lee Gowton, lead blogger at

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Earlier this week, the Buffalo Bills traded linebacker Kiko Alonso to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for running back LeSean McCoy.

Earlier today, Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation and I exchanged questions and answers about our respective reactions to the trade, and to the new player on the respective team we cover. You can read my answers to Brandon's questions here; these are Brandon's answers to my questions.

McCoy averaged 2.9 yards per carry in the first five games of last season, then returned to form a bit and averaged nearly 4.8 yards per carry the rest of the way. What would you say was the biggest reason for that dichotomy?

Gowton: The offensive line was the most notable difference. Early in the season, the Eagles were a mess up front. Lane Johnson was suspended for the first four games. Allen Barbre, his replacement off the bench, then suffered a season-ending high ankle injury in Week 1. Evan Mathis, one of the team’s best run blockers, suffered an MCL injury in Week 1. Jason Kelce got hurt in Week 3. Matt Tobin, one of the team’s primary backup guards, was also unavailable early in the season because he suffered a high ankle injury in August. So the offensive line definitely had to do with some of McCoy’s struggles. Some of the run defenses McCoy faced early on in the year (such as Washington, San Francisco, St. Louis, Arizona) were better than the weaker ones he faced in the season half of the season (New York Giants, Dallas, Tennessee).

On the other hand, he just didn’t look like the same player. He was dealing with a turf toe injury late in the summer, but he just didn’t look right. He wasn’t making people miss like he did in the past. From what I wrote in my Eagles running back position review:

"McCoy averaged 2.09 yards after first contact this season. That's a career low for him. The previous low was 2.10 in his rookie season. He wasn't nearly as elusive as he's been in the past. McCoy finished 15th out of 18 running backs that have played at least 50% snaps in Pro Football Focus's "Elusive Rating", which boils down a runner's success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers. McCoy finished much higher in this rating in past years: sixth in 2013, sixth in 2012, seventh in 2011. PFF graded McCoy 55th out of 57 running backs that played a minimum of 25% offensive snaps in 2014."

McCoy posted career-low numbers as a receiver in 2014. Was the presence of Darren Sproles the reason for that, or was there more at play?

Gowton: Good eye. That’s something that I was looking at in late December.

The addition Sproles definitely had an impact. He was targeted 62 times. In 2013, McCoy’s backup (Bryce Brown) was targeted only 25 times. McCoy was targeted a career-low 37 times in 2014, with the previous low being 55 when he was a rookie. He didn’t make the most of the limited opportunities, however. Plus, he dropped three passes.

In the aftermath of the trade, we've heard a lot about Philly's line injuries being a cause for McCoy's statistical slide last year, and we've also heard about his starting the downslope of his career. Objectively, how much do you think he has left in the tank if he's used near the pace that he'd been the last two seasons?

Gowton: What you said about pace there is key. I don’t think he’s going to be able to be as effective if he’s being run into the ground in Buffalo like he was in Philly. In fact, I think part of why he fell off in 2014 was due to high 2013 workload. I do believe McCoy has some quality years left in him; he’s certainly not a bad player. But I do wonder about his elusiveness moving forward. That’s critical to his game, and I just didn’t see it last season. He’s not an exceptionally fast runner, so he needs to be able to make people miss.

Obviously, McCoy is a much more proven player than Alonso, so I imagine that Eagles fans were largely upset when the news broke, but have started to grow excited about Alonso's prospects over the past couple of days. Has that been the case?

Gowton: The approval poll I ran at BGN indicates most fans were in favor of the trade (66% approved). It’s tough for fans to see him go, because he was a fan favorite, and the franchise’s all-time leading rusher. I do think some fans are really excited about the potential of a Mychal Kendricks-Kiko Alonso inside linebacker duo. Pairing up two athletic playmakers together like that is going to be very fun to watch.

This is the latest in a series of bold personnel moves that Chip Kelly has made in his two-plus years on the job. With so much overturn, and star players leaving left and right, are Eagles fans having any difficulty buying into what he's selling?

Gowton: The majority are buying in. There are reasons for skepticism and doubt, for sure. But the bottom line is the guy is 10-6 in two years with the team, which isn’t very easy to do. He hasn’t won a playoff game yet, so that’s the next step. Kelly seems to have big plans in store for this offseason, with a potential trade up for Marcus Mariota and a big spending spree in free agency. I don’t know if his plan is going to work, but he’s not messing around. He’s swinging for the fences. I think that’s exactly why the Eagles hired a guy like him, as opposed to some retread.