Seeking solutions in the run game

Posted Oct 13, 2017

The Bills remain committed to being a run-first team and are spending the bye week to find solutions that enhance the unit's success.

As Buffalo moves through their bye week, the Bills coaching staff is taking a hard look at themselves and what they’ve done as coaches for the team through the first five games. They’ll also direct their attention to their personnel and their game-to-game performance. Head coach Sean McDermott knows that the run game will be a focus on the offensive side of the ball.

As much as Tyrod Taylor was the subject of criticism in the wake of the loss at Cincinnati, Buffalo’s run game has been unable to match the success it has enjoyed each of the past two seasons.

“We’ve got to look at everything,” said McDermott. “It’s never just one thing. It’s never just the offensive line. It’s never just the tight ends, the wide receivers and the eight-man box. It’s all of that. It’s everything that we can do better.”

It’s no secret that the Bills have an offense that is rooted in its run game. LeSean McCoy is the most gifted player on offense and after two seasons of leading the league in rushing, it only makes sense to stick with what works.

Buffalo’s new blocking scheme under offensive coordinator Rick Dennison is very different to the one employed over the past two seasons and was going to require an adaptation period. Through that transition the Bills run game was still expected to be productive enough to keep opposing defenses honest, especially with the same five men on the offensive line from a year ago and McCoy in the backfield.

Thus far, Buffalo’s run game ranks in the middle of the pack at 16th overall, managing just over 106 yards a game. Their yards per carry average of 3.4 ranks 28th and almost two full yards shy of last year’s league-leading average of 5.4.

“It’s true of any offense. If you become one dimensional that’s not good,” said McDermott. “So we’ve got to make sure we can run the football and run our style of offense. There have been times when we’ve done it and there have been times where we haven’t. So we’ve got to continue to grow and get better.”

LeSean McCoy has been especially disappointed in his personal level of production. Following his 110-yard rushing day in the opener, McCoy has put up a total of 169 rushing yards over the four games that followed. His longest run was a 14-yard carry last Sunday in Cincinnati and his yards per carry average the last four weeks has dipped to 2.6.

“It’s tough,” said McCoy. “Nobody judges my game harder than myself. I’m angry about it, but at the end of the day we’ve just got to keep plugging. Some of it is about respect. All the attention is on the running game, so as much as I want to be angry, we’ve just got to adjust to it and figure out a way to beat it. We’ll get there.”

“I saw him have success last year and I’ve seen him have similar success at times this year,” said McDermott. “The important part here is we’ve had untimely penalties that have cost us critical first downs. Then just getting on track in a rhythm with the running game, so that he knows where the holes are and where the blocks are and that we’re getting on those blocks and sustaining those blocks. It’s not just one position, it’s multiple positions and all of us doing our job better.”

Buffalo’s new run scheme features a lot of stretch plays on the edge, an approach that McCoy is ideally suited for, but McDermott said the blocking hasn’t been consistent enough up front for McCoy to exploit the gaps created in the defense.

“At times (Sunday) we thought we had the edge and we didn’t make a key block that we needed, particularly on those outside runs,” McDermott said. “We started running the ball outside and had success on the first drive. We came back to that run in the second half and we didn’t make a block where we should’ve made a block. So, you go back and that’s what coaches do. We go back and evaluate and adapt and adjust. That’s what we have to do.”

“Anytime you start a new scheme and you have some different techniques, they’re going to take a little bit longer to get going,” said Eric Wood in an appearance on Bills flagship station WGR Sportsradio 550. “We had some success Week 1, so it’s in there. We are capable of running the ball in this wide zone scheme well.

“This past week we mixed in a few more power runs than in the past and they were pretty productive for us. But ultimately, we’ve got to start eliminating guys that we’re blocking. Some of those six or seven-yard plays that we had in the last game, if we get just a little bit more on a back-side linebacker those would’ve been big chunk plays for us. Last year we made a lot of those.”

McDermott didn’t rule out potential changes on the offensive line. He’d like to have the five up front set in stone, but it’s been compromised by Cordy Glenn’s foot and ankle issues and what still might be an open starting job at right guard after Vladimir Ducasse replaced John Miller in the lineup last Sunday.

“That’s part of what this week is about. We evaluate ourselves first,” McDermott said. “I’ve got to evaluate myself and the coaches will all do that and then we’ll evaluate personnel.”

What hasn’t changed is the resolve of the players and coaches to get things fixed and back on track. They know the run game is what they hang their hat on offensively, and that the complementary elements of their offense follows.

“After this bye week, hopefully we get it going,” said McCoy. “It would’ve been a great day (Sunday) to get it going and get over the hump. We’re right there.”

“A lot has been made of the wide zone (scheme) in that maybe we’re not as good at it,” Wood said. “I would say we’re not as good at it yet, but I think we’ll grow into a really effective running team.”