Another league leading year on the ground

Posted Jan 5, 2017

Buffalo's run game was the league's best for a second straight year making them just the third NFL team in the last 20 years to go back-to-back.

It’s one thing to lead the league in rushing, but to do it in back-to-back seasons is pretty uncommon. How uncommon? Only two other teams have pulled it off in the last 20 years. Buffalo topped their league-leading rushing average of 152 yards per game in 2015 by a dozen yards in 2016 with a mark of 164.4. It was the identity of a Bills attack that finished in the top 10 in scoring and challenged opponents to stop them.

“That was our vision when we came into training camp,” said Richie Incognito. “We wanted to be able to take over the game and dictate the tempo of the game to opposing teams. Us rushing the football like that opens up a lot of different things. It sets the tempo for the rest of the team and sets the tempo for the offense. It opens up some things in the passing game that we want to do. It takes pressure off of everybody when we can run the football like that and then the offensive coordinator can go into his bag of tricks.”

Buffalo rushed for over 200 yards five times in 2016 with three of them going for more than 270 on the ground. The season-high came in Week 6 when they rolled up 313 on the San Francisco 49ers.

“That’s our thing,” said leading rusher LeSean McCoy. “Our thing is that we run the ball very well in the backfield. The guys up front, they block very well when a quarterback can move. [We] kind of play off of that. We always make plays, and we run the ball well and we keep the drive alive. We eat up a lot of clock. That’s how we play.”

In addition to leading the league in rushing they also led the NFL in rushing touchdowns for a second straight season. The last time a team did that the late Walter Payton was carrying the ball in the Chicago Bears backfield (1984-85). Buffalo’s 29 rushing touchdowns this season set a franchise mark and tied for 10th most in league annals.

“I think records are meant to be broken and you always try to just do your best,” said McCoy. “The guys up front when you have a line like that it makes it a lot easier for the backs. I’m excited to be here.”

McCoy put up the kind of production expected of him when Buffalo acquired him in a trade with Philadelphia in 2015. He was slowed by hamstring injury last year and could manage only 895 yards on the ground. The dynamic back rebounded this season with almost 1,300-yards rushing (1,267) and 13 rushing touchdowns.


“He’s got great vision, but the thing he does best though is how he sets defenders up,” said Incognito of McCoy. “He’ll be setting them up from about 10 yards away. He’ll straighten them up, get them to stop moving their feet and he’ll sprint right by them. It’s pretty amazing to see. He’s got such a knack for it and it’s so easy for him.”

McCoy averaged 5.4 yards per carry for the season, but instrumental in helping the team post a franchise best 5.35 yards per carry on the year were Mike Gillislee (5.7 avg.) and Tyrod Taylor (6.1).

The use of Taylor in Buffalo’s read option package proved deadly at times as Taylor had six rushing touchdowns on the season and went for 580 yards on the ground.

“What we do really well is we have our core set of runs, but then we have our quarterback driven stuff, and Tyrod is obviously a talented runner and puts stress on defenses,” Incognito said. “Even when he doesn’t have the ball he still on his fakes he holds a defender so it gives us an advantageous box count, even when they load the box.”

Gillislee lived up to his moniker of ‘Touchdown Mike’ contributing eight rushing touchdowns. He too went over 500 rushing yards on the season giving the Bills three rushers with better than 500 yards for the second straight year.

What makes the offensive players so proud of their rushing success is the ability to keep opposing defenses off balance with the wide variety of looks they can give.

“There’s so much eye candy, window dressing, whatever you want to call it, but then sometimes we’ll run that stuff,” said Ryan Groy, who started the last seven games at center. “It’s not all fake, we’ll actually do a lot of stuff that messes with the defense. I didn’t realize how much that stuff distracts the defense until I talked to some guys on the defensive side and they said that it messes with their fills and gaps and what they’re trying to read as far as keys.”

And while the creativity of Buffalo’s run game makes it hard for opponents to get a handle on what’s coming next, the Bills also showed the ability to just mash with teams at the line of scrimmage as well.

“It’s our ability to still play physical,” said Jerome Felton. “The one thing that’s frustrating for me is watching different teams and different offenses everybody is trying to reinvent the wheel and be the most dynamic, but I think in this offense you have some of that in the way we run the football, but it also allows you to play physical and beat up on opponents. That’s the most fun to me because the league has definitely become softer. It is what it is, but when we as an offense still play physical that’s what I like.”

Buffalo’s league-leading rushing attack finished with the third-most yards on the ground in a season in team history (2,630). Only the O.J. Simpson led Bills of 1973 (3,088) and 1975 (2,974) accumulated more yards on the ground.

“We have a very talented running back and our guys do a great job of creating holes up front, even Jerome Felton,” said Taylor. “That’s one of our strong points of course.”