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Jason Wolf: Despite Josh Allen's heroics, Bills' running game is broken

Josh Allen is just the fourth player in Buffalo Bills franchise history to rush for 95 or more yards in three consecutive games, joining O.J. Simpson, Thurman Thomas and Fred Jackson.

Which is ridiculous.

And so is this: With 101 rushing yards and a touchdown on nine carries in a 27-23 loss to the New York Jets on Sunday at New Era Field, the rookie quarterback surpassed LeSean McCoy to become the team’s leading rusher this season.

It’s a staggering accomplishment. And it points to a larger issue.

The Bills’ running game is broken. And they’re going to have to fix it this offseason by bolstering the offensive line, adding more talented receivers to prevent defenses from keying on stopping the run and by drafting or signing McCoy’s successor, even if they choose to keep the 30-year-old for the final year of his contract.

“We’ve got to protect the quarterback and run the football with somebody other than our quarterback,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said after the loss. “We’ve got to take a hard look at that. It’s been an issue. I know that when the quarterback is your leading rusher, it’s not a healthy thing week in and week out.”

Allen has rushed for 490 yards and five touchdowns on 66 carries in nine games, eight of them starts.

McCoy has managed 479 yards and two touchdowns on 144 carries through 12 games. His yardage ranked 27th among NFL players this season entering the game, and he’s managed a paltry 3.3 yards per rush, by far the lowest of his career.

But opponents still view McCoy as a threat.

The Jets made stopping him an emphasis of their defensive game plan.

“That was a main focus,” Jets linebacker Avery Williamson said, “but we knew that we just really had to fit our gaps well. We didn’t do a good job of that the last time we played, and that’s why they kept gashing us.”

McCoy has surpassed 100 yards on the ground just once this season, recording 113 yards and two touchdowns in a blowout victory against these same Jets on Nov. 11 in New Jersey.

He had one yard on two carries Sunday before leaving the game with a hamstring injury.

It was essentially the third game McCoy missed with an injury this season. He was unable to play in the Bills’ victory at Minnesota in Week 3, after cracking a rib the previous week against the Chargers. He went out on the second play of the game at Indianapolis in Week 7 with a concussion.

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Chris Ivory, 30, who drew the start against the Vikings and finished with 56 yards on 20 carries, stepped in once again when McCoy was injured Sunday.

He contributed 42 rushing yards on 12 carries before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury.

Wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie, claimed off waivers last month, added 22 yards and a touchdown on four carries. He has two rushing touchdowns in four games with the Bills this season, tying McCoy. McKenzie is the first Bills wide receiver since Elbert "Golden Wheels" Dubenion in 1961 with multiple rushing TDs in a season.

Bills quarterbacks and receivers have combined for eight rushing touchdowns, the most of any team in the league, according to NFL Research. Bills running backs have combined for three rushing scores, the fewest in the league.

“We have to find ways to pick up the slack on that end and continue to move the football,” Allen said.

Allen threatened to break the franchise single-game quarterback rushing record for a third consecutive week, after galloping for 99 and 135 yards the last two games. He finished with 101 yards.

But it made him the second QB in league history to rush for at least 90 in three consecutive games, joining the Packers’ Tobin Rote, who did so in 1951.

He is also the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to run for 100 yards in back-to-back games, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

But once again, it wasn’t enough to lift the Bills to a victory.

(Allen also lost a fumble and completed 18 of 36 passes for 206 yards, two interceptions and a 44.4 passer rating.)

Bills General Manager Brandon Beane has said McCoy “definitely” factors into the team’s plans next season.

“LeSean is still a very good player in this league,” Beane told The News last month. “Our offense is not where we want it, but LeSean is still playing well. He's a talented player. We like what he brings, to the point we'll have him back in 2019. He'll definitely be a part of that.”

The Bills have stuck by McCoy through his struggles on the field and his issues off it.

But they can save $6.425 million against the salary cap by releasing him in the offseason.

Of course, they don’t have to.

They’re projected to have more than $92 million in cap space, third-most in the NFL, according to overthecap.com, as well as 10 draft picks, their own in each of the seven rounds and an extra fourth, fifth and seventh from trades.

Allen has become a consistent threat to run. "It is really a part of who he is," receiver Zay Jones said.

But the Bills need to surround him with more talent, including at running back.

They'll have plenty of resources.

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