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Let’s celebrate the Buffalo Bills running game

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The Bills have produced a historically great rushing offense this year.

Ignore, for a moment, the minuscule playoff prospects for the Buffalo Bills. Set aside the fervor about Rex Ryan, Doug Whaley, and Tyrod Taylor. Put away your passions about Sammy Watkins, Marcell Dareus, and Buffalo’s other maligned veterans.

Let’s just step back and take a moment to appreciate the historic success shared by Buffalo’s offensive line, LeSean McCoy, Mike Gillislee, Tyrod Taylor, Jerome Felton, and the other contributors to an elite rushing attack.

Could this be the best rushing attack of this millennium?

The Bills are ranked 1st in rushing touchdowns, 1st in rush yards, and 1st in yards per carry this season. In fact, their lead over the rest of the league isn’t really that close. This ranking isn’t just a reflection of the volume of their commitment to the run, which was an asterisk on Buffalo’s league-leading rushing offense in 2015. The Bills are simply executing their plays better than any other team in the league, period. And they’re dominating the stat like no one else in recent league history. Buffalo set a franchise record for rushing touchdowns in this, the most pass-happy era of the sport.

The yards-per-carry ranking looks like this:

16th: 4.2
...
5th: 4.7
4th: 4.7
3rd: 4.7
2nd: 4.8
1st (Buffalo): 5.5

Similarly, here’s the ranking for touchdowns:

16th: 12
...
5th: 16
4th: 16
3rd: 18
2nd: 22
1st (Buffalo): 27

There are only two teams, post-merger, to finish the season with 5.5 yards per carry. The 2006 Atlanta Falcons, fueled by Michael Vick and his insane 8.4 yards per carry, were one. The other was the 1997 Detroit Lions, featuring Barry Sanders. Buffalo could be the third.

For touchdowns, the last team to match Buffalo’s number was the 2008 Carolina Panthers. But keep in mind that Buffalo still has two more games to outscore the 30 touchdowns managed by the Panthers. The 2006 San Diego Chargers (and Ladainian Tomlinson at his best) scored 32 rushing touchdowns.

“Wait!” you say, skeptical of any stat that may suggest Buffalo’s actually doing alright. “This is skewed by Buffalo’s decision to start a scrambling quarterback like Tyrod Taylor!” And, well, you have the right idea, but take away Taylor’s contribution, and this is still a dominant rushing attack. A Taylor-free run game would still rank third in yards and touchdowns, and lead the league in yards per carry.

The individual running backs are starring in this offense

LeSean McCoy only just eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark on the season in Sunday’s game, but that’s simply a result of Buffalo only asking him to rush 205 times this season. Every time he touches the ball, he’s been electric. How well is he fitting in Buffalo’s offense? At 5.5 yards per carry, McCoy’s production sits in elite company. Here are the only players to rush for 5.5 yards per carry on 200 carries post-merger (1970-present):

  • OJ Simpson
  • Eric Dickerson
  • James Brooks
  • Barry Sanders
  • Clinton Portis
  • Adrian Peterson
  • DeAngelo Williams
  • Chris Johnson
  • Jamaal Charles
  • CJ Spiller
  • LeSean McCoy

Mike Gillislee, who will be a restricted free agent this year, has produced like clockwork ever since the Bills picked up the former fifth-round pick. In two seasons of part-time work (and recall that he spent much of 2015 backing up rookie phenom Karlos Williams), Gillislee has come in as the change of pace and run defenses ragged. He has 122 rushing attempts for 713 yards (5.8 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns. His patience behind Buffalo’s offensive line, and the speed at which he accelerates to second gear, makes him one of Buffalo’s best big-play threats. Nine of his 122 rushes have gone for 20 or more yards (7.4%), and 19 of them (15.6%) were for 10 or more yards.

Congratulate everyone involved.

Let’s be thankful for McCoy, Taylor, and Gillislee, for being the electric runners that generate so many chunks of yardage.

Let’s be thankful for the offensive line (including fill-ins Cyrus Kouandjio and Ryan Groy), for working together flawlessly and rarely missing a beat when run blocking.

Let’s be thankful for Jerome Felton, who finally clicked this season after being cut during training camp.

Let’s be thankful for Charles Clay and Nick O’Leary, who do an admirable job blocking on the edge on a number of these running plays.

Let’s be thankful for Anthony Lynn, who took over this offense two weeks into the season, added his own wrinkles, and kept it running better than before.

And let’s be thankful for Rex Ryan and Doug Whaley, who, for all their flaws, managed to assemble together the personnel who can execute the best rushing attack in football.