The Buffalo Bills have been riding high lately, as Rex Ryan’s group has found a way to combat a rough 0-2 start with an impressive four-game winning streak.
A huge piece to Buffalo’s successful turnaround has undoubtedly been the high level play of star running back LeSean McCoy, who capped an elite start to 2016 with over 140 rushing yards and three scores in last week’s win.
Now it seems like the Bills will have to find a new muse for their winning ways.
Per reports, the man known as Shady suffered a hamstring injury during practice this week and has already been ruled out for Buffalo’s week seven tilt with the Miami Dolphins:
The Bills initially were holding out hope that McCoy could rest up and be ready to face the Dolphins in South Beach, but quickly gave up on risking their best offensive weapon.
Even worse, early reports suggest that Shady’s hamstring injury could linger; potentially keeping him out for several weeks.
The latter isn’t an option if the Bills are serious about contending for a playoff spot in 2016, especially since a sapped offense was already figuring out new ways to move the ball and score without top receiving threat, Sammy Watkins.
Losing Buffalo’s main source of offense is not an overstatement with this LeSean McCoy injury, as Shady was absolutely crushing it in 2016.
More specifically, McCoy was responsible for well over 600 total yards, as well as a whopping seven touchdowns. That’s a big deal for a team that hasn’t exactly lit the world afire through the air, largely thanks to Watkins going down with a foot injury earlier in the year.
The silver lining here is Buffalo does have some depth at running back. Karlos Williams in peak physical form may have been preferred, but even after releasing Williams before the season, Buffalo still has two reliable rushers in Mike Gillislee and veteran back, Reggie Bush.
Bush has two 1,000-yard rushing seasons to his name and can be trusted in a pinch, but Gillislee may give the Bills reason for serious optimism for however long McCoy takes it to the sidelines.
Gillislee made his presence known in 2015 with the Bills, where he ran for 267 yards and three touchdowns as the third back on the depth chart. That was good for a gaudy 5.7 yards per carry and Gillislee’s strong play has only transitioned to 2016, where he’s running well again (6.9 yards per clip) and has scored twice.
McCoy is the superior talent and is more experienced, but the Bills run the ball as good as anyone and Gillislee is jumping into a system he’s gotten comfortable in, and against a Miami team that isn’t exactly elite against the run.
Not having Shady is a bummer, but the Bills are not in a bad spot with the talented Gillislee. Just take a look at his Bills highlights:
Gillislee can ball, so on paper, there isn’t major cause for concern for the Bills on the ground this week. Miami is actually horrendous against the run (31st) in 2016, as they’ve given up an astonishing 147 yards per game.
The real issue may be either with Buffalo’s defense or Tyrod Taylor getting the passing game going. McCoy’s absence could impact the latter negatively, as he was a big part of the passing game (20 receptions) and a strong go-to guy for Taylor when things got messy.
Robert Woods is banged up going into week seven and we know Watkins isn’t out there, so Taylor really has scraps to work with on offense these days. The running game itself could be leaned on more heavily, but the Bills will need to muster up something through the air so Miami can’t sell out against Gillislee.
They should be able to figure that out, but what about the other side of the ball? Miami ran the ball extremely well last week, as the Dolphins finally put their faith behind second-year rusher Jay Ajayi and watched him blast the training wheels off to the tune of 200+ rushing yards and two scores.
The key could be which ground game gets going first and which defense can force the first turnover. Miami is at home and is confident after beating the Steelers last week, so if they start hot, control the tempo and perhaps force Tyrod Taylor into a mistake or two early, they’d naturally have the edge.
The hope will be Buffalo just keeps playing their game, Gillislee steps in and is successful and the Bills ride their strong run-blocking to their fifth win of the year.
As solid as Gillislee and Reggie Bush are, not having a versatile and explosive talent for McCoy far beyond this week could be a real problem. The Bills build their entire offense on running the ball and really need McCoy as an extra receiver, as well.
Gillislee can fill those shoes effectively on a temporary basis, but doing so long-term is a great unknown.
This still feels like a game the Bills can (and should) win. Miami showed up big last week, but perhaps they’ll be too high in the clouds this week to truly take advantage of a less than 100% Buffalo squad.
Buffalo’s defense is the big reason for serious optimism. The Bills have really turned it on during their four-game winning streak, and aside from an awful week two performance against the Jets, have really enjoyed a strong year despite not having key guys like Marcell Dareus or rookie pass rusher Shaq Lawson for most of the ride.
Lawson and Dareus could actually both be back in the lineup this week, which only strengthens the defense and makes this unit nastier. For week seven, that could be enough to push them over the top.
Long-term, the Bills need LeSean McCoy and probably Sammy Watkins at full strength to be really safe bets or have serious aspirations like the playoffs – let alone a Super Bowl.
Right now Bovada appropriately awards the Bills with +3300 Super Bowl odds. Given their injuries and hot start, this actually might be a good time to throw down a bet on the Bills either winning the AFC East or going all the way. Because once healthy, the Bills could actually end up being rather dangerous.
For now, limit your Buffalo Bills betting overall, and cross your fingers that Shady and Sammy can get back to 100%.
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