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Opponent Breakdown: Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy

Posted Oct 7, 2016

The Bills boast two of the better running QB/RB duos in the NFL with QB Tyrod Taylor and RB LeSean McCoy, and L.A. will have to contain them on Sunday.

Bills head coach Rex Ryan is known for winning games with a strong running game and solid defense. That was true of his teams when he coached the Jets for six years, and it remains the case for Ryan’s second year in Buffalo.

The offensive philosophy — commonly referred to as “ground and pound” following Ryan’s Jets stint on Hard Knocks — has produced a top-10 finish in yards rushing for five of the coach’s seven completed seasons. And if the Bills continue at their current rate, their 2016 team should once again finish among the league’s best in running the ball.

After starting the season 0-2 with losses to the Ravens and Jets, Ryan decided to relieve offensive coordinator Greg Roman of his duties and replace him with running backs coach/assistant head coach Anthony Lynn. This is the eighth year Lynn has been on Ryan’s staff, and that familiarity gave the head coach confidence to make the switch.

“I just thought we needed a change and Anthony Lynn is a great football coach,” Ryan said this week. “we’re trying to get the ball to our playmakers and, obviously, our running game, we’re pretty multiple in what we do in the running game. I think he does a great job of calling the games. For a guy, if you think about it, he really hasn’t had a whole lot of experience calling plays — I thought he’s done a great job these last two weeks.”

Lynn has been able to help maximize the talents of the club’s biggest threats on the ground, running back LeSean McCoy and quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

It seems like McCoy has been around forever, but the running back is in his eighth pro season. He spent six with the Eagles before being traded to Buffalo prior to the start of 2015, and has continued to be productive both as a runner and pass catcher out of the backfield.

McCoy has averaged 74.3 yards per game this season, reaching 110 yards rushing with two touchdowns in the Bills’ 33-18 victory over Arizona in Week 4. Last week, McCoy accounted for 108 yards from scrimmage with one receiving touchdown.

“He’s great out the backfield, he can run between the tackles, he obviously is a great player in space, and he’s a decent pass-protector,” Ryan said. “I think he can do it all — absolutely do it all.”

Taylor called McCoy, “a mismatch problem for a lot of defenses. It’s definitely important that we get him going for our team’s success. Just got to continue to keep building around him, and continue to keep getting him the football.”

Nicknamed “Shady” for a reason, McCoy has elite cutting ability that makes him particularly elusive.

“He can cut on a dime just like that and make you look silly,” Rams middle linebacker Alec Ogletree said. “So it’s going to take everybody trying to corral him and try to get as many people to the ball as possible to slow him down.”

“Anytime that you get alone, one-on-one, in space with a back like that, you’re at a disadvantage. What we say is, it’s going to be very minimal that you’re in there by yourself because we’re all running,” defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said. “Our swarm and our pursuit has to be overwhelming or, otherwise, he’s going to make too many plays in space and he’s going to turn it into big plays and he’s done that before.”

Add to that a signal-caller who has drawn some lofty comparisons this week and it shows why the Bills’ run game is so effective.

“Taylor, first off, I feel like he’s a little Michael Vick to me,” cornerback Trumaine Johnson said.

“He’s kind of like Russell Wilson in the sense that he can run around and extend plays and make throws on the run,” Ogletree said. “We face Russell twice a year, so we kind of see a guy like him. But he’s different in his own way. I think he’s probably faster than Russell, actually.”

Based on 40 times at the NFL Combine — admittedly, not always the most reliable marker of speed — Ogletree’s right. Wilson ran a 4.55. Taylor ran a 4.51.

“Things that pop off, immediately people are going to pop to his movement skills because he can run a 4.4 at the quarterback position, so that’s rare,” Ryan said. “But he can also make throws – the guy was the most effective deep-ball thrower last year with his accuracy. He can throw the deep ball, he has great movement skills. He maybe lacks the ideal height, but you know what, he’s a leader, he prepares like crazy and we’re very fortunate to have him.”

“There are called runs for him, there’s all kinds of stuff in their offense,” Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said. “They’re very creative. They went through a coaching change, but the last two weeks, they’ve been challenging from a defensive standpoint, with personnel groupings, unbalanced formations, wildcat, and all that stuff. So, it’s going to be a long week for us defensively.”

Taylor was among the league leaders at 8.0 yards-per-attempt last year. That mark has gone down to 6.7 yards-per-attempt through four games in 2016, but the quarterback’s accuracy has stayed consistent at 68.7 percent.

But one of Taylor’s primary weapons, wide receiver Sammy Watkins, is out for at least seven more weeks after going on injured reserve with a foot injury. One of the players to step up in Watkins’ stead may be USC product Robert Woods. The wideout has caught 18 passes for 170 yards so far this season.

“I would say me and Robert Woods’ chemistry is definitely building,” Taylor said. “From here on out, we’re going to be spending a lot of time together. You just go to continue to keep building, getting on the same page, and we definitely learned that we can be better. He had a great game last week.”

But for Los Angeles, containing the Bills’ offense begins with neutralizing both Taylor and McCoy in the run game.

“They’re special athletes and we’ve just got to try to bottle those guys up,” defensive tackle Aaron Donald said. “They can hurt you in a lot of different ways. Our job is to try to contain the quarterback, get to him, and stop the run. As long as we do that, we’ll be successful.”