LeSean McCoy started the 2017 season exactly how most expected he would.
The Buffalo Bills’ running back carried 22 times for 110 yards in a win over the New York Jets, looking every bit like the Pro Bowl performer he’s been since arriving in Western New York in 2015.
Since that time, however, Shady has gone missing. In the Bills’ last four games, McCoy has carried 65 times for just 169 yards. On the season, he’s averaging 3.2 yards per carry, a full 1.5 yards less than his career average of 4.7.
“It’s tough, you know? No one judges a game like myself, so I’m angry about it,” McCoy said Sunday after the Bills’ 20-16 loss to the Bengals, during which he had 63 yards on 19 rushing attempts.
Cincinnati became the latest team to deploy a common game plan against the Bills, one that Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was happy to share after the game.
“We figured we would stop the run and try to make them one-dimensional by throwing the ball,” he said.
That’s something McCoy has gotten accustomed to. With the Bills’ passing offense sputtering, it doesn’t take a doctorate in football philosophy to know that opposing defensive coordinators are going to key on McCoy.
According to NFL’s NextGen stats, McCoy has faced eight or more defenders in the box on nearly 30 percent of his runs.
“If we were such a sucky run team, other teams would just let us run the ball,” he said. “They put more emphasis and attention on us.”
McCoy isn’t the only running back to see that kind of attention, though. Jaguars rookie Leonard Fournette is seeing eight or more defenders nearly 48 percent of the time, while Chiefs rookie Kareem Hunt is facing eight or more 36 percent of the time.
“We’ve just got to keep plugging at it,” McCoy said. “It’s hard, but it’s like respect. There are certain routes, certain bracketing in coverages, and all the attention is on the back. 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.”
McCoy has yet to reach the end zone in 2017, a year after scoring 14 times.
“As far as the touchdowns, I’m a competitor and a fighter, and I want to win,” he said. “I want to put the numbers up. I really do. But something that I’ve been working on is being more team based, you know? That’s something” coach Sean McDermott “and I have been talking about.
“It’s tough, because you want to do well, and if you’re not doing as well, but your team is winning – ultimately that’s the main goal.”
McDermott has known McCoy since their days together in Philadelphia, and he has enjoyed seeing that maturation process.
“Early on in his career I knew him, he knew me early on in my career, and to watch him evolve as a teammate, is one of the joys of coaching or being a coach,” McDermott said.
That relationship between player and coach dates back to 2009, when McCoy was a rookie with the Eagles. He’s now a ninth-year veteran who is 29, though, which means the question of whether he’s lost a step is only going to get louder and louder.
The analytics website Pro Football Focus ranks McCoy 17th in its “elusive rating” which measures a runner’s success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers. Elusiveness is vital to McCoy’s game. If he is going to be successful, he has to be close to the top of the league in that stat. McCoy was credited with forcing just one missed tackle by PFF against the Bengals.
“I saw him have success last year, and I’ve seen him have similar success at times this year,” McDermott said. “The important part here is we’ve had untimely penalties that have cost us critical first downs, as late as yesterday in the game. Really, getting on track in a rhythm with the running game, so that he knows where the holes are, he knows where the blocks are, and that we’re getting on those blocks and sustaining those blocks. Again, it’s not just one position, it’s multiple positions, all of us doing our job better.”
McCoy did have a 44-yard carry in the fourth quarter Sunday wiped out by a holding penalty against tight end Logan Thomas.
“There are times we can run the ball, but we’re not finishing,” McCoy said. “Whether it’s myself, the reads, or a lineman not getting a block or it’s a holding call, all those things come to affect us in the running game. It’s not just one particular thing. It’s a whole. It’s myself and the guys up front.”
McDermott said the Bills will use their bye week to “look at everything” that’s wrong with a run game that led the NFL the last two years, but currently ranks 16th.
“It’s never just one thing, it’s never just the offensive line, never just the tight ends, never just the wide receivers, and the eight-man box, it’s all of that,” he said. “It’s everything we could do better, and this week, being our bye, it’s about self-awareness, and evaluating what we’ve done well, what we haven’t done well, and also looking to evolve. That’s the important part as we look at what’s in front of us this week.”