The Buffalo Bills featured a pair of running backs on the wrong side of 30 in 2018, and it’s fair to wonder if either will return for the 2019 campaign. Below, we look at Chris Ivory’s season and see what he brought to the table for the Buffalo Bills. At 3.3 yards per carry and a definitively “not eye-popping” 385 yards for the season, it’s already not looking good for the veteran.
When most people discuss Chris Ivory’s benefit to the offense, they’re talking about this. No bells, whistles or anything like that. Just straight ahead, take-what-the-defense-gives-you runs—and Ivory certainly does do that. Note at the end of the run he lowers his head to get the last little bit available.
With the inevitable comparisons to LeSean McCoy’s game, we may as well get started. McCoy simply can’t churn like this. Despite a small difference in weight (about 13 pounds according to Pro Football Reference) there’s a major difference in ability to push a pile.
Here we have the same idea but on a quick toss to the outside. Ivory manages to keep his legs going and the end result is a first down. Also note that Ivory isn’t too shabby speed-wise getting outside.
This isn’t McCoy’s level or even particularly close, but for a player who hit 30, this isn’t a bad ability to cut and dance around. Ivory isn’t a one-dimensional back and does have a little wiggle to supplement his power game. In addition to the change of direction, he remains balanced after contact.
Here’s another thing I trust Ivory to do well more than McCoy. Ivory is an aggressive blocker who consistently buys a little extra time for his quarterback. This represents Ivory’s usual blocking style, preferring to get a quick “pop” to drive his man back at the point of contact.
This is actually a one-yard loss but still an excellent play to discuss several things. Regarding Ivory, that’s good balance to spin out of the first tackle and get this to a loss of one rather than several. There’s not enough lead blockers to stop the Minnesota Vikings from turning this into a stop, which brings us to negative plays (no gain or loss).
The perception this year was that Chris Ivory had far fewer negative runs than LeSean McCoy. While true, Ivory also had far fewer carries. When discussing rates, they’re shockingly similar. McCoy ran for no gain 11.2% of the time. Ivory? 11.3% of the time. McCoy lost yards 14.9% of his runs. Ivory lost yards 12.2% of his rushes. McCoy’s average loss was 2.3 yards. Ivory’s was 2.1 yards. We’ll circle back to this, but essentially both backs lost yards at nearly identical frequencies and amounts.
Due to the length of this clip, we start mid-play. Ivory has leaked out of the backfield and sees Josh Allen being chased. Ivory wisely moves in the same direction and looks for the ball. Allen sees the open back and they connect for 55 yards. The only statistical measure where Ivory performed significantly better than McCoy was yards-per-catch. This reception is a good chunk of why. That’s not to sell Ivory short. He earned this and every catch, and showed he’s a threat in the passing game as well.
There’s not much to discuss here, just enjoy. That’s a nice cut to break the tackle and more than adequate speed to get to the edge.
Here’s Ivory’s best attributes all in one play. As he cuts through the line, he jumps to avoid being tripped and still gets to his position quickly. He makes the catch, quickly turns and starts running. He attempts to cut but is corralled. The first contact doesn’t drop him and the churning legs get just a bit more.
Simply due to age, the Bills would be taking a major gamble by relying on the tandem of LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory. It would certainly be understandable if one or both didn’t return for the 2019 season. Despite his advanced NFL years and being the backup to a possible Hall of Fame talent in McCoy, there’s plenty of reason to keep Ivory around.
As the clips show, he was quite versatile for the Bills—and not just in physical talent. The veteran was able to diagnose and help out in plays that a younger back might miss as they adjust to the speed of the game. There’s a valid concern about yards-per-carry, with Ivory’s in steady decline since 2015, his last over 4.0 yards per carry. With evidence strongly suggesting a major issue with the line, it’s not unreasonable to think Ivory would have had a respectable 2018 if there had been better blocking in front of him.
Improvement on the offensive line should help Ivory, but the natural argument becomes justifying Ivory over McCoy or a promising youngster. Ivory’s presence would likely benefit a young player so there’s not much conflict there. If the Bills only stick with one of Ivory or McCoy, there’s actually an argument for Ivory. While age is the oft-cited problem for the position, there’s an argument that number of carries might be more important. McCoy enters the 2019 season with about 2,600 carries in his career. While Ivory is 112 days older than McCoy, he’s only accumulated about 1,300 carries.