1 - Why the run game has hit its stride
The beginning of the year was a bit uncharacteristic for Buffalo's rushing attack, as they led the NFL in that category the past two seasons. Despite their early season struggles, the ground game has gotten in a groove at the perfect time.
Bills four-time Pro Bowl guard, Richie Incognito, joined the John Murphy Show on Thursday to explain the recent resurgence.
"I think it was we had done it so well on tape for two years, and then we got out there the first part of the season, and I had expected some growing pains going into the zone scheme, but we just weren't hitting on all cylinders the first few games," said Incognito. "The collective feeling on offense was, 'Hey, we've been there, we've done this, it's the same people, let's go.' It was right around the bye week when the coaches made the change and that's when players have to take ownership of it."
In the past two seasons, Buffalo's league-leading rushing attack utilized a power run scheme. With this year's new coaching staff, they used a zone blocking scheme at the beginning of the year. As the running game experienced inconsistencies, the case to go exclusively to a power run scheme became stronger.
"I really do think it was a little bit of the offensive coaches swallowing some pride and taking out some things that they were familiar with and learning some things we're comfortable doing and have had success doing," Incognito said. "And then, boom. We get it dialed up and go out on the field and we're ripping off huge runs with Shady [LeSean McCoy]."
After Week 10, Buffalo's rushing offense ranked 15th in league and averaged 111 yards. Heading into Week 16 they rank sixth in the league and have added 18 yards to their average (129.1).
That Week 10 game came against the Saints the Bills only tallied 69 yards rushing. They haven't looked back since, reaching over 100 yards rushing in each game. They've averaged 160.6 yards on the ground in the past five games.
"The offensive coaches went back to the drawing board. They figured out what we can handle, what we can do well," said Incognito. "We went back to more of the man schemes with Shady out on the edge. The offense has really flourished since then."
2 – Cadet contributes when number is called
It was in early November when running back Travaris Cadet came on board in Buffalo. He's earned a role within the offense, as he's suited up in five-straight games.
Last Sunday's game was an encouraging sign for Cadet, as he was slated as the second-string RB behind LeSean McCoy. That backup role was Mike Tolbert's when he wasn't dealing with injury. Tolbert was healthy in Week 15, but head coach Sean McDermott chose to have him inactive as a healthy scratch.
"Those are never easy. Whether it's Mike or anybody else. Those are some of the hardest decisions I have to make on a weekly basis," said McDermott. "Mike was disappointed, but he was a pro about it. He did a great job leading our football team even though he wasn't suited up."
In Week 15, Cadet contributed to the offense when called upon. He had four carries for 24 yards, averaging six yards per carry. He also reeled in one catch for 14 yards.
Cadet's been known as a pass-catching RB throughout his NFL career. With the Bills, he has 13 receptions for 93 yards in five games. He explained what has led to his success in the air attack.
"It's a game of mismatches. Just take advantage of what the defense gives. I think being in there with Shady [McCoy], we kind of complement each other," Cadet said. "I think when you add that element to your game it makes you more complete and not one dimensional. It's not predictable and makes the defense think more. Just because we line up in a receiving formation doesn't mean we can't run out of it."
It's not an understatement to say Cadet was minimally utilized in the ground game prior to coming to Buffalo. In six seasons, with four teams, he only tallied 87 rushing yards. In five games with the Bills he's surpassed that, posting 93 yards rushing.
"I think this is the first time in my career I've actually had a chance to play running back," Cadet said. "Earlier in my career I was predominately used as a receiver. The other team, they watch film too. It wasn't any trickery; they knew what my tendencies were and what the game plan was. It limited me to being a one-dimensional player. I feel like now in this offense I'm not one dimensional because I'm able to run the ball."
3 - Surprising stat about Bills passing attack
It's no secret that the Buffalo Bills are a run-first football team. The Bills rank 32nd in the NFL in passing yards (2397), but you might be surprised to see the team atop of a list in a certain passing stat.
According to ESPN NFL Matchup, Buffalo is sixth in the league with the most pass attempts 20-plus yards downfield.
"I think we do a lot of great things in our offense, as far as putting it down the field," said wide receiver Zay Jones. "The emphasis we have is making big plays."
Converting on big plays has been vital for the Bills offense. In Week 14 against the Colts, it was instrumental in an overtime win. With two minutes left in OT, wide receiver Deonte Thompson caught a 34-yard bomb from Joe Webb. Three plays later, LeSean McCoy ended the game with a 21-yard run.
"We just like taking shots. It's part of our game man," said Thompson. "We're going to run, run, run, and take shots when they present themselves."
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