Column as I see ’em, Week Three:
Rex Ryan can be entertaining and unpredictable in his news conferences. He also can be shrewd and calculating. There are times when it’s clear that the Bills coach has come to the microphone with an agenda.
After Sunday’s rousing win in Miami, one of the first questions to Ryan was about Tyrod Taylor. Rex had some kind words for his quarterback, then abruptly shifted to unsolicited praise of running back LeSean McCoy, who rushed for only 16 yards in 11 carries.
“LeSean McCoy, man, sometimes he’s out there on one and a half legs,” Ryan said. “But he’s unselfish. He’s doing a great job, picking up blitzes, all that stuff. I feel frustrated for him, because I know the kind of mark he wants to put on this team. Physically right now, he’s not quite back to where we need him to be.
“But I love the kid. I love his attitude. He’s impressive.”
Ryan returned to McCoy twice later in his presser. I got the distinct impression that the coach was trying to prop up his star running back’s confidence and reassure McCoy that he’s still the unquestioned focus of the offense when healthy.
The fact is, McCoy hasn’t been the Bills’ best running back. Rookie Karlos Williams leads them with 186 yards rushing after his 110-yard day in Miami. Williams is averaging 7.7 yards a carry. McCoy has 146 yards and is averaging a modest 3.4 yards a run.
McCoy has been hampered by a sore hamstring since training camp, as Ryan pointed out. Still, Williams has been a revelation. His punishing inside style is more suited to the power running game that Ryan historically favors.
Ryan downplayed the idea of a “ground-and-pound” running attack at the start of the regular season. That was because the Bills had a diverse, highly talented group of skill players and a featured back who was more of a slasher than a road grader.
The Bills still want McCoy to be the dynamic force he was in Philly from 2013 to 2014, when he averaged 313 carries, 1,463 rushing yards and 40 catches. They’re paying him $8 million a year to be a workhorse, not part of a two-headed backfield.
But it might be too much to expect McCoy to get 350 touches. If Williams continues to produce this way, he deserves more playing time, especially if McCoy is operating at less than 100 percent. Ryan doesn’t want any running back controversy, but he knows Williams is a valuable weapon.
“We got to do what’s in the best interest of our football team, and LeSean also,” Ryan said. “But golly, he’s such a good player. He’s not at 100 percent. If he’s close, if he’s at 80 percent, he’s a heck of a player.”
The Bills have a big investment in McCoy. If he’s not effective, he shouldn’t be out there. If he’s playing hurt to justify his contract, or because he’s afraid of being upstaged by a rookie, someone needs to talk sense into him. It’s in the best interest of the Bills to get McCoy healthy and ready for a playoff run. McCoy admitted after Sunday’s game that he “can’t get that acceleration, that burst.” Why play in a compromised state if the team has a gifted backup?
Ryan should give serious thought to sitting McCoy for a game or two if his hamstring doesn’t get better soon. Getting him fully healthy and back to the Shady of 2013 is what the team really needs.
And if Williams keeps tearing it up in his absence, that’s a problem the Bills should welcome. If the offense keeps rolling, there will be plenty of touches to go around for the backs in the months ahead.
• So, do you get the impression that Bill Belichick and the Patriots are out to get revenge on the NFL after the prolonged embarrassment of Deflategate?
One week after breaking the record for passing yards by a Bills opponent, the Pats trampled Jacksonville, 51-17, the most points allowed in one game in the Jaguars’ 21-year history. Tom Brady led New England to scores on all nine of his drives.
Brady is off to the best start of his career, presumably with properly inflated footballs. He went 33-for-42 for 358 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions against the Jags. After three games, Brady is 96 of 133 passing (72.2 percent) for 1,112 yards, nine TDs and zero picks.
The 38-year-old Brady is third in the NFL in passer rating at 119.6 Aaron Rodgers led the league entering Monday night’s game. Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor was fifth at 116.1, by the way.
There’s already talk of the Patriots going 16-0, which they did in 2007 in the wake of the Spygate scandal. I wouldn’t rule it out. Imagine if they’re 9-0 when the Bills show up in Foxborough for a Monday nighter on Nov. 23.
• Atlanta wideout Julio Jones has 34 catches for 440 yards through the first three games. The 34 receptions are the most ever by an NFL player in the first three weeks of a season. He’s on pace for 181 catches and 2,347 yards, which would shatter the record in both categories.
Jones has 66 catches for 1,053 yards in his last seven games, dating back to last season. No Bills receiver has that many yards in a full season since Stevie Johnson had 1,073 in 2010.
Meanwhile, Roddy White has become an afterthought in the Falcons’ offense. White has gone without a catch in two straight games – after having at least one reception in 130 consecutive games.
•The Raiders are 2-1 for the first time since 2011 after a 27-20 win at Cleveland. Oakland broke an 11-game road losing streak and a 16-game skid in the Eastern time zone that dated back to 2009. The streak included the Bills’ memorable 38-35 comeback win over the Raiders at The Ralph in Week Two of 2011.
Linebacker Khalil Mack, the pride of UB, had his first two sacks of the season, one a strip sack of Browns QB Josh McCown. Oakland quarterback Derek Carr passed for 314 yards and two touchdowns and didn’t throw an interception.
The Cleveland fans who weren’t screaming for Johnny Manziel were lamenting the fact that the Browns could have had both Mack and Carr in the 2014 draft. They dealt the No. 4 overall pick to the Bills with Mack on the board and picked Manziel at No. 22 overall. Carr went 36th to the Raiders.
• Pro Football Focus rated Richie Incognito as the top guard in the NFL through the first three weeks of the season. The site has Incognito allowing only one quarterback “disruption” (a hit, pressure or sack) and no sacks through 196 snaps. The guards for his former team, the Dolphins, have allowed 26.
• This week’s encouraging Bills’ schedule note: All four teams in the AFC South, this year’s AFC divisonal matchup, are 1-2 after three weeks. Indy is suddenly tied for first after winning in Tennessee, the Colts’ 14th straight win in the division. Buffalo has games left against the Jaguars, Texans and Titans.
• NFL kickers have missed 14 extra points from the longer distance this season, after missing a combined 26 from 2011 to 2014. How long before Stephen Gostkowski falters? The Pats’ kicker made all six on Sunday, bringing his string of successful extra points to an NFL-record 425 in a row.