It’s no secret that Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy has just concluded his worst season in the NFL. Barely breaking 500 yards at a highly inefficient 3.2 yards-per-carry was a disappointment to everyone except Buffalo’s opponents. So what was the deal? Has he lost a step...or ten? Was the line really that bad? Aliens?
As you might have expected, we’ll take a look at the All-22 and see what was going on with Shady. With a player like McCoy though, we’re going to entirely skip explaining what made him special or what type of player he is. Instead, we’ll first look at a sample of plays from McCoy’s best season (2013). Then we’ll take a peek at 2018 film to see if the cliff is real.
One of the first things that jumped out about Shady’s tremendous 2013 season were the sizable lanes frequently open. That’s not to say McCoy doesn’t deserve credit. At the point this clip pauses he’s already committed to the edge, but he had to make that decision at full speed and get in close to his blocker. Trailing further behind the blocker would give the defender a little extra time to adjust.
There are a few things to note. First, he has a decent lane from the get go. There’s a chance for a quick tackle (number 57) but a tiny shoulder shrug creates a miss. Keep an eye out for small-body contortions on the move. There’s plenty of fast and shifty players in the NFL. What has made McCoy special are the twitch moves that avoid hands. Back to the play: When McCoy reaches the second level, his path begins to get cut off. A nice change of direction from Shady makes this a good gamble, but the door also closes quickly in the cut-back lane. Something we’ll come back to is that McCoy’s runs often end at the first solid contact.
This play shows deceleration and change of direction. which are often summed up with the term “dancing.” McCoy doesn’t like how the play developed up front and dances to the left where he finds a couple extra gears. It’s an 11-yard run, of which most backs aren’t capable.
For our last 2013 play we take a look at some extraordinary balance. McCoy has two defenders with an excellent shot at his ankles. His subtle movements and balance on the run leave both players sprawled without another tackle notched into their helmet. Shady gets to the edge and picks up a few yards he had no business gaining.
Here we are at present day, Bills at New York Jets in November during Week 10. McCoy has some early lane options but needs to make a fast decision and a quick cut to take advantage. He does—and quite easily. The left foot plants and McCoy makes an excellent cut to his right. With a solid run started, he needs speed and acceleration to turn it into a big gain. He demonstrates a good deal of balance on a tight rope and turns the big gain into a touchdown. At least during this play, McCoy doesn’t look quite as natural sprinting as he did in 2013. That top speed looks like it’s taking more work than it used to. This is still a hell of a play.
Here’s McCoy caught dancing and as a result it’s only a gain of a yard. Devil’s advocate here: Would he have gained much more slamming into that wall? The play design looks like he should find a lane in the middle, but he displays a lot of what he did in Play 3. It’s not easy to stop like he does and quickly cut to the side. More impressive, though, is that Leonard Williams (92) has a good shot to tackle him at the line but McCoy uses that uncanny ability to slightly move to prevent contact. He does run a lot of yards for basically the same gain he could have had crashing into the line. He shows off some trademark McCoy on the way, however. If the question is “does he still have some left in the tank?” the answer is “yes.”
The play flows to the right and so does the entire Miami Dolphins defense. With the Bills’ offensive line creating iffy lanes, McCoy dances back to his left. Robert Quinn (94) is locked on, but McCoy does a tiny ‘lil shoulder move and makes Quinn miss. While there has to be some props for Josh Allen creating some hesitation in the defensive back, that’s Minkah Fitzpatrick that McCoy beats to the edge. Fitzpatrick has been clocked at sub-4.40 times.
There’s always some gut-level analysis with these posts, and here’s mine. In 2013, I think McCoy makes that spin move a blur and hits the lane harder or even finds the edge. Most of this has been talking up McCoy but there is evidence he’s lost a step. It’s not always glaring, but occasional lack of fluidity and a bit of stiffness seem to appear in the 2018 film more so than the 2013, unsurprisingly to most—given McCoy’s age.
There are two reasons this play was selected. McCoy seems to make pretty good decisions. When he dances, it’s on plays where there’s likely no gain to be had anyway. Zero yards are better than negative to be sure, but overall the attempts to find another lane were understandable based on his skill set. The second important thing to note is that McCoy hasn’t become any more of a bruiser than he was five years ago. Once he’s hit the play is probably over.
It’s relevant to note that this is in the second half of a Week 17 game from a player that’s on the wrong side of 30. McCoy is out there snapping ankles and making defenders chase ghosts. It’s a four-on-one situation, and McCoy makes them work for the tackle.
Has LeSean McCoy lost a step? Yes, undoubtedly. He’s not the same runner he was when he first landed in Buffalo, let alone his 2013 season. Slight changes in speed and shiftiness are problematic for a player who relies almost exclusively on those traits. On the flip side, when you’re talking about a potential Hall of Fame player losing a step, it still sets a nice ceiling. Looking at this past season, Shady still consistently showed a lot of nice moves.
For Sean McDermott and Brian Daboll, they still have what could be a dangerous weapon in McCoy. If the Bills commit to investments in the offensive line and scheme around McCoy’s strengths there’s no evidence to suggest 2019 can’t be a good year for Shady. Not quite 2013 good, but “take some pressure off of Josh Allen” good, for sure. The Bills should look to reduce some of McCoy’s workload and take a swing at an heir apparent, but keeping Shady looks to be a solid move from a talent perspective.