Elite athletes transcend scheme. When you’re in the wrong play, they can make you right. When you’re in a hole, they pull you out.
That’s what LeSean McCoy and Tyrod Taylor repeatedly did for the Bills in Sunday’s 45-16 rout of the San Francisco 49ers. The elusiveness of McCoy and Taylor lead the Ten Plays That Shaped the Game:
1. Shady magic. What play looks good on third and 20 from your own 26? How about let McCoy make magic? The 49ers rushed three and sat back in a zone. McCoy took a handoff off left tackle that would have been a 10-yard gain for 98 percent of NFL running backs. But McCoy made a jump-cut to the right. Niners linebacker Michael Wilhoite, in position, could only watch as Shady blew by him to the right sideline for 22 yards. First down. It allowed the Bills to get a field goal to end the half.
2. Tyrod escapes. The Bills put the game away with a 75-yard drive in the fourth quarter to go ahead, 31-16. On second and 5 from the Niners’ 39, safety Eric Reid blitzed untouched off left tackle. But Taylor got outside him and scrambled 18 yards to the 18.
“The plays with Taylor were specific and looked a lot like our Seattle game against Russell Wilson, where he kept plays alive with his feet,” said San Francisco coach Chip Kelly. “When it looks like we have a chance for a sack . . . but we don’t get him off the field, and he gets to extend the play. They made some real big plays on scrambles.”
3. Route 64. On the next play after Taylor’s scramble, LeSean McCoy scored on the Bills’ favorite play. He followed pulling guard Richie Incognito to the right and ran 18 yards for a TD. Reid dove but missed at the 10.
4. Beating the safety. The Bills’ exploited a good matchup on Justin Hunter’s 30-yard, third-quarter TD catch, which made the score 24-13. Hunter was the inside man on a three-receiver set to the left. The outside two receivers ran underneath, and Hunter ran a corner – up and out. As soon as Hunter released, he saw the safety, Reid, turning to chase him to the back pylon.
“My eyes got big,” Hunter said. “I was just hoping he’d throw it up, and he threw it to the perfect spot right to the back pylon like we practiced. It worked out perfect.”
“I didn’t play good today,” Reid said. “With the touchdown. I missed a sack. Didn’t do my job.”
5. Turnover on downs. On the series before Hunter’s TD, the Bills’ defense made a stand, stuffing Mike Davis on runs up the middle on third and 1 and fourth and 1. Both Bills inside linebackers blitzed on both plays. Zach Brown looped and attacked to the right of the center. Preston Brown attacked to the left of the center and made the tackles.
“We ran the same play twice, and they ran the same play twice; that’s all DT,” Preston Brown said, referring to defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman. “It was going to be a quick dive, and we had a cross-dog blitz on. Zach took everybody with him and I was free up the middle.”
“Man, that’s crazy play-calling,” said Zach Brown. “We got DT playing magician up there, knowing what they’re going to call.”
6. Option pitch. For the second week in a row, the Bills scored on an option pitch. It looked just like last week’s TD run by Mike Gillislee. Taylor tossed to the right to McCoy, who got good lead blocks by Jerome Felton on Reid and tight end Charles Clay on linebacker Nick Bellore. The 4-yard run gave the Bills a 7-3 lead.
“It’s a good play,” Felton said. “I look for the force player, usually the safety, and I’m trying to cut his outside leg, but I know Shady cut inside me on that one.”
7. Route 64. McCoy followed a pulling Incognito and Felton on a power run to the right for a 38-yard gain to the Niners’ 29 early in the second quarter.
8. Route 70. Five plays later, McCoy took a Wildcat snap and ran the counter to the left with center Eric Wood leading the way. McCoy took a false step to the right like he’s running the power, then cut to the left.
“Weak side counters and front side powers worked really well,” Wood said. “We hit some big plays on those. . . . A lot of times we run to the strong side of that, but our tight ends can block too. So we’ll run a counter back off of it, and it’s a nice complement.”
9. Bunch confusion. The Bills defensive backs got mixed up on San Francisco’s 53-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith in the second quarter. Nickell Robey-Coleman followed Quinton Patton on a crossing route to the left. But both Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby covered Jeremy Kerley on the out. Gilmore apparently got fooled, and Smith was wide open running straight up the field.
10. Sail route. Taylor showed patience in the pocket and found his third option, tight end Nick O’Leary, on a 23-yard up and out to the right sideline just before the Bills’ third TD.