When the Bills Run the Ball:
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Buffalo has an explosive duo of running backs having veteran LeSean McCoy who was acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles and Karlos Williams who was selected in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft out of Florida State. Williams is a power back who has rushed for 360 yards in six games–twice topping 100 yards in a game–and averaging a gaudy 6.2 yards per rush (all stats from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted).
McCoy almost appeared he would be lost for the season due to a hamstring injury in training camp but has rebounded to start seven of nine games for Buffalo and pile up 528 yards and a 4.7 yards per carry average. McCoy also is a dangerous receiver out of the backfield and has 18 receptions for 177 yards.
A key f
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or Buffalo in the running game has been the offensive line play. After sitting out of football for a season, left guard Richie Incognito has been playing at an All-Pro level for the Bills. Left tackle Cordy Glenn is solid as is center Eric Wood. Rookie right guard John Miller has added another big, tough, and strong player but he has struggled in his rookie season and between him and the duo of Seantrel Henderson and Cyrus Kouandjio at right tackle, Buffalo will continue their trend of running up the middle and to the left.
Quietly, the New England Patriots have gone from a team viewed as having a liability in the running game without nose tackle Vince Wilfork to the team being first in the NFL allowing just 88 yards per game on the ground. While that statistic may come with the qualifiers that they still allow only 4.0 yards per rush, or that teams are not likely to run on them due to opponents often playing from behind, the numbers do not lie that this run defense is for real.
New England–as they have done at multiple positions this year–have a rotation with all five defensive tackles getting playing time during the game to keep them fresh. Veteran Alan Branch has emerged as a solid run-stuffer and he often pairs with rookie Malcom Brown to give the Patriots a one-two run-stuffing punch on early downs.
New England will also replace the duo with young veteran Sealver Siliga who is often paired with Akiem Hicks. Hicks came over from the Saints and is big and surprisingly athletic. Siliga is one of the better run defenders in the NFL and has surprising power and quickness and is able to contribute to the pass rush as well.
The Patriots have 2014 first round draft pick Dominique Easley–who has been a solid run stopper–on the field on passing downs to provide a penetrating pass rush. New England will lineup defensive end Jabaal Sheard inside to rush the quarterback but both he and Easley have been solid in getting into the backfield to snuff out draw plays and their run stopping ability has been a surprise.
It is true that teams have not been able to test the Patriots front seven with the running game due to the offense allowing them to jump out to an early lead in almost every game. Other than Pittsburgh in week one, no one has been able to run consistently and effectively on New England. The Bills will test that and will be trying to take advantage of a New England defensive front without Jamie Collins in the lineup.
Just as the pass defense needed to pass the test of facing an elite quarterback-wide receiver duo as they did last week against the Giants, the Patriots run defense is looking at a big test facing McCoy and Williams and the left side of the Bills’ offensive line. If they can shut down Buffalo’s strong duo, it is a big plus for the defense and a key to victory for the Patriots.
Next: When the Bills Pass the Ball