What if LeSean McCoy doesn't play? Here's what the Bills might do in personnel and scheme

January 5, 2018
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So, what if LeSean McCoy can’t suit up Sunday for the Bills in their AFC wildcard matchup at the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday?

Here’s how the offense may look, from personnel to scheme, without Shady.

Personnel

—Mike Tolbert and Marcus Murphy will certainly be the main ball carriers.  The question will be if either will be relied upon more than the other, or if they would have more of a 50/50 type of split?  Last week, in the team’s 22-16 win at Miami, after McCoy went out, Tolbert had seven carries and Murphy had five.  

—The team signed RB Aaron Green to their practice squad this week as insurance in the event McCoy can’t go and they need another back.  But if that’s the case, they’d have to determine by Saturday evening if they want to sign Green to the 53-man active roster in order for him to be eligible to play Sunday.  And if that happens, they’ll have to release someone to make room for his roster spot.

Scheme

—If McCoy doesn’t play, the Bills won’t have to re-invent the wheel on offense for Murphy.  Although he’s not Shady, obviously, he does have a very similar style as a runner and can be used in the passing game, as well.  In fact, when Murphy came out of college from Missouri, some scouts believed he may be a slot receiver in the NFL due to his lack of size (5-9, 195), but pass-catching and play-making ability with the ball in his hands.  Murphy has also been with the team since early November, mostly on their practice squad.  He knows the system.  He’s been working in it every day and being coached and getting reps, albeit limited, for two months.

—If the team wants to use Tolbert more than Murphy as the primary runner, that's where changes may come in on offense.  Although we’ve seen (probably too often for many Bills’ fans’ tastes) Tolbert run plays to the edge, it’s not his strong suit.  Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison would most likely call more plays in between the tackles for his 5-9, 250-pound running back in a fullback’s body vs. having more of the field available to him horizontally with Murphy.

—Given the matchup against the Jaguars, who ranked first in the NFL against the pass, but 21st against the run during the regular season, the Bills will probably want to attack them on the ground with or without McCoy.  But not having Shady may mean that they elect to go with some more “heavy” packages and try to pound Jacksonville and shorten the game, also trying to keep themselves in more manageable third down situations.  If that’s the case, they may very well have three tight ends active for the game, as well as FB Patrick DiMarco, something they’ve done several times this year.  They could also use Ryan Groy and/or Seantrel Henderson as an extra offensive lineman to give more size and extend the line up front.

—"22 personnel" is two tight ends and two running backs.  It leaves only one wide receiver in the formation.  But that’s something the Bills might use a lot of Sunday if they want to control the game on the ground.  Tight end Charles Clay is one of their best pass-catchers, but is also a good in-line blocker and would be involved in most offensive snaps.  Nick O’Leary is more of a pass catcher and Khari Lee the run blocker, although O’Leary can certainly play along the line and contribute in the run game.  Logan Thomas is also an option to play, depending on the packages they want to employ.

—Tyrod Taylor had the second most rushing yards of any NFL quarterback this season, behind only the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson.  But his 427 yards were still the fewest he’s had in three years as the starting QB of the Bills.  He also had his fewest rushing attempts this season, going from 104 to 95 to 84.  If McCoy can’t play, Taylor may be called upon to carry more of the load running the ball than he has all year.  Taylor has only carried the ball more than eight times once this season.  Without McCoy to turn and hand the ball of to, he may have to have double-digit carries against the Jaguars.  That will include scripted, designed runs, as well Taylor deciding to take off on his own after looking to pass first.

—We’ve seen the Bills use Joe Webb as a runner this year.  The QB/WR has run the ball (and thrown it) from shotgun formation already a few times.  It would only be for a handful of plays and at specific times, but he could be a useful tool for the offense in this game in that capacity once again, bringing an extra element and option to keep the Jaguars defense off-balance.

—Finally, the option I don’t think the Bills will want to go with, but since it’s playoff football and you just never know what coaches come up with to go against trends their opponent can take advantage of, the Bills could elect to be more pass-heavy in this game if Shady can’t suit up.  They would especially want to try and hit some big plays in the passing game knowing their biggest run-game play-maker isn’t available to them.  That would bring Deonte Thompson’s downfield ability into play.  He led the Bills in yards per reception this year at 15.9.  It’s tough to throw at all against Jacksonville.  They allowed league-lows 169.9 yards per game and 4.82 yards per play through the air.  They also finished second in the NFL with 21 interceptions.  However, they have given up twelve passing plays of 40 yards or more, tied for sixth most in the league.  Eight of those came over just the last six weeks.


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