PHILADELPHIA (AP) LeSean McCoy's left toe turned an ordinary preseason game into one worth watching.
When the NFL's reigning rushing champion missed a practice because of a minor toe injury, it raised some anxiety among Eagles fans and fantasy football owners everywhere.
But McCoy is expected to play when Philadelphia (0-2) hosts the Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) on Thursday night.
''In this league, you have to learn how to play through pain if you can,'' McCoy said. ''And if you can, you have to go out there and work hard.''
Coach Chip Kelly downplayed McCoy's toe injury which forced him to watch practice Sunday.
''He's fine. It's not as big an issue as I think anybody's made it out to be,'' Kelly said.
McCoy set a franchise record with 1,607 yards rushing in 2013. The two-time All-Pro has his sights set on a 2,000-yard season this year. It won't be easy if his toe slows him down.
''My track record, I don't miss a lot of games, I don't miss a lot of practices,'' McCoy said.
So, there will be plenty of eyes focused on McCoy to see how much he plays and how well he plays against the Steelers.
The third preseason game is the closest to a real one because starters usually play into the third quarter and then sit out the final game to be ready for the opener. Both teams are looking for improvement after so-so performances the first two weeks.
Nick Foles and the rest of Philadelphia's offense haven't been too sharp. Penalties, turnovers and various mistakes cost them in losses at Chicago and New England. But this will be the first game starting wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper play together.
The first-team defense is a bigger concern because it struggled both games. They've allowed three touchdowns on six drives in two games.
''This is an evaluation phase. Sometimes evaluation looks painful, but sometimes it looks promising,'' defensive coordinator Billy Davis said. ''Sometimes those growing pains that you're looking at hurt, you don't want them to happen, but they happen. The goal is that every day we're punching through and we continually move forward with getting better in both growing assignments and techniques of the young guys and the backups and some of the older guys that are new to the scheme.''
The Steelers are eager to test themselves against Philadelphia's up-tempo offense and face a 3-4 defense. Ben Roethlisberger and the offense will get to try their no-huddle approach on the road. On defense, rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier looks to build off his dazzling debut against the Bills.
''We're excited about it, particularly some of the challenges that the Philadelphia Eagles present offensively with the no-huddle stuff and the up-tempo pace,'' Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. ''They're a 3-4 defense. We've seen some 4-3 defenses. We're excited about that and they're capable of being multiple (formations), particularly on situational downs, third downs and so forth. They give you a lot of looks. That's an exciting opportunity for us to check our in-game readiness.''
Roethlisberger is working hard on perfecting the no-huddle, which is becoming a regular part of more offenses around the league. He threw for a pair of touchdowns during his three series of work in a win over Buffalo last week.
''This week is the last week to get it right,'' he said.
Shazier, the 15th pick in May's draft, had 11 tackles and one interception in one half in his first NFL game. He missed the preseason opener because of a knee injury.
''One week I might have 11 tackles; one week I might have five,'' Shazier said. ''I'm just doing whatever they want me to do.''
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org
Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AP-RobMaaddi