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One solution to Bills' passing problems? Throw more to LeSean McCoy

LeSean McCoy represents one viable answer to the many questions facing the Buffalo Bills’ anemic passing game.

McCoy has been underutilized as a receiver this season.

The 30-year-old running back has 13 catches in five games played, which is a pace that would give him 41 catches over a 16-game season.

Last year, McCoy led the Bills with 59 catches.

Bills coach Sean McDermott wasn’t in a mood Thursday to talk strategy as his team prepared for Monday night’s game against the New England Patriots. The coach acknowledged: “He’s a good receiver, and he’s good with the ball in his hand.”

McCoy remained in concussion protocol Thursday from the blow to the head he took early in last week's loss at Indianapolis.

However, McCoy was able to practice on a limited basis and took part in individual drills with his helmet on. He ran around wearing a red “no contact” jersey. That’s a good sign for his chances of facing the Pats.

The Bills are in a desperate search for ways to inject some pop into a passing attack that ranks 32nd in the league.

Derek Anderson’s increased familiarity with the offense could help as he enters his second week at quarterback. But no one on the roster is going to strike fear into defensive coordinators as a deep-ball threat.

McCoy is one proven target on the roster with more upside than he has shown in the passing game this season. Coverage linebacker is not one of the better strengths of the New England defense. Testing the Pats by getting the running backs in space seems like a good idea, whether it’s with McCoy, Chris Ivory or Marcus Murphy.

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One tactic the Bills have not shown much so far is lining up McCoy wide as a receiver. They did it a lot in training camp.

McCoy has lined up on the far side of a formation only nine times in 196 snaps so far, and six times were in the opener in Baltimore. McCoy has lined up in the slot four times.

One reason to line up a running back wide is to give a quarterback a read on man or zone coverage. Another, of course, is to get the ball in his hands in space, where McCoy is elite.

The Patriots excel at the tactic with receiving back James White, who is a matchup problem for defenses. White averages only 5.7 carries a game. But his 45 receptions ranks No. 2 in the NFL among running backs. White has lined up wide or in the slot as a receiver on 20 percent of his snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.

Another way the Bills might try to get McCoy more involved is in the screen game. The problem with that idea, however, is the Bills don’t have elite-level interior linemen to get out in front of it.

The Bills have thrown seven screen passes to running backs in the first seven games, according to News charts. Four have been completed for gains of 30, 2, -1 and -3 yards. They threw two screen passes to running backs in Indianapolis.

The Bills weren’t a big screen team last year, either, even though they had more athletic blockers to lead the way in Eric Wood and Richie Incognito. McCoy caught only five screen passes in 2017, according to News statistics.

One way or another, the Bills must find more ways to get the ball to McCoy.

“I would have loved to have him longer than two plays last week,” Anderson said on Thursday. “I think the backs did a great job in the game. Murph came in. Chris ran the ball hard. Both those guys did a great job without having LeSean in there. I think we’re just growing. Everybody’s got roles. Everybody is adapting.”

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