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What the numbers say about LeSean McCoy's struggles

LeSean McCoy’s yards-per-carry average has gone from 5.4 to 4.0 to 3.2 over the past three seasons with the Buffalo Bills.

If the decline continues at that pace, Shady will average 2.7 a carry in 2019.

Yes, this is meant in jest.

The Bills have 39 million good reasons to expect McCoy to rebound from his career-worst 2018 season. That’s the amount of guaranteed dollars the team poured into its offensive line in free agency.

The Bills signed six unrestricted free agents to the front five and then invested a second-round draft pick in offensive tackle Cody Ford of the University of Oklahoma. The Bills might have five new starters blocking in front of McCoy.

How much can a much-improved offensive line be expected to help the Bills’ soon-to-be 31-year-old running back?

One way to measure it is to look at the difference McCoy encountered last year without his two best blockers from the previous seasons, guard Richie Incognito and center Eric Wood.

McCoy was hit by a defensive player within 1 yard of the line of scrimmage on 50.3% of his carries in 2018, according to News statistics.

That was a big increase over the previous two years. In 2017, McCoy was hit within a yard of the line on 41% of his carries. In 2016, the figure was 38.7%, almost 12 percent less than last season.

McCoy finished 2018 with a career-low 514 rushing yards on 11.5 carries per game, which was the lowest since his rookie season of 2009. It was the first time in his 10-year career he averaged fewer than 4.0 yards a carry.

He produced 1,138 rushing yards on 17.9 carries per game in 2017 and 1,267 on 15.6 carries per game in 2016.

The result of getting stopped in his tracks at the line of scrimmage so often was he couldn’t get to the second level of the defense and use his elusiveness and acceleration to his full advantage.

McCoy had only three runs of 20 or more yards in 2018, a career low. In 2017, McCoy tied for the NFL lead with 12 carries of 20-plus yards. In 2016, he was second in the NFL behind Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott with 11 carries of 20-plus yards.

The Bills still ranked tied for eighth in rushes of 20-plus yards last season with 15. But it was thanks to quarterback Josh Allen. He had eight 20-plus runs over the final six games of the season, and he was the only Bill to have a 20-plus rush over that stretch.

Besides the play of the offensive line, of course, improvement by Allen and the passing game is the other big way the Bills can help McCoy improve.

Never in his four seasons in Buffalo has McCoy benefited from a passing game that demanded significant respect from the opposing defense. The Bills ranked 31st in the NFL in passing yards each of the past two seasons. They were 30th in 2016 and 28th in 2015. Maybe the addition of speedy receiver John Brown can get defenses to back up more, which would help McCoy.

Improved circumstances, of course, mean a lot to running backs. Frank Gore, signed by the Bills in free agency, averaged a career-worst 3.7 yards per carry in Indianapolis in 2017. Gore improved that number to 4.6 in Miami in 2018. Gore turns 36 next week.

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