Now that we’re halfway through the preseason many position battles are starting to clear up. Fans watching the contests versus the Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers have likely seen that Josh Allen has a new favorite target for instance. For the running back position however, the LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore conundrum has not been as clear cut. Let’s check in on what’s been going on and see if the tape reveals anything interesting.
Play time and statistics
LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore both have played in one game each and only with the starters. As a result of fairly consistent “Josh Allen” time against Indianapolis and Carolina, McCoy and Gore have had relatively equal snaps as well.
There has been a slight difference between the two running backs when it comes to how many times they’ve touched the ball, though. Frank Gore had two carries and one target against the Colts, which was caught. These touches resulted in seven rushing yards and four receiving. LeSean McCoy had four carries and three targets (two catches) against the Panthers. McCoy had six rushing yards with a touchdown and eleven receiving yards.
As a running back
The Buffalo Bills were clearly emphasizing the passing game to get Allen going in both preseason games. As a result, neither back was used a tremendous amount of times as a running back. Despite that, a couple differences did stand out.
LeSean McCoy tended to line up a bit deeper on average than Frank Gore. As the faster player, this is likely intended to help him see lanes thanks to the extra space as well as accelerate into them. This wouldn’t be the first time this has come up either.
This could be only a blip, but a noteworthy one to look out for. On one snap Frank Gore did the opposite of McCoy, positioning himself near the line of scrimmage. Josh Allen was in shotgun well behind Gore. On this play Gore could be seen calling out the defense and assisting Allen.
When asked to run the ball the Bills used a downhill, smash mouth approach for both players. Of the six carries combined, Patrick DiMarco was in for four of them. The play that went furthest to the edge was behind the right tackle. For McCoy, a converted 3rd-and-1 and a one-yard touchdown were both right up the gut.
Because of the emphasis on the passing game, both running backs were used quite a bit in various aspects. As above, there were some key differences despite both players running routes on a consistent basis.
Play-action seemed to be reserved for Frank Gore, with fake hand offs occurring more frequently when he was in the game. LeSean McCoy was used more frequently split out wide as a receiver, leaving Allen with an empty backfield. McCoy was split wide three times to Gore’s one. Additionally, McCoy took one snap as a slot receiver, which was his longer gain of nine.
Interestingly, only LeSean McCoy was asked to do any pass protection. The bump here and a true pass-protection snap is not a high volume but two snaps was still two higher than Gore was asked to do. McCoy remains an imperfect blocker.
For most snaps the two backs were used as safety valves for Allen. Shorter routes and sneaking out through the line were common actions for both players. McCoy and Gore were asked to run a couple routes beyond the short range but generally stuck to the security-blanket variety.
Despite limited action as true running backs there were some intriguing trends that crept up. Both players were given a few reps outside their comfort zone. Whether it was Gore attempting a more complex route as a receiver or McCoy pass blocking or smashing in for a third-down conversion.
The Bills also took a few snaps to let their running backs use their strong suit. Gore carrying a pile or being a vocal leader surely didn’t surprise anyone. McCoy being effective from the slot isn’t a shocker either.
Perhaps the most clear thing from all of the above is that the battle isn’t over in the running-back room. Week 3 of the preseason is coming and will hopefully provide more answers.