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LeSean McCoy's usage not only problem for frozen Bills offense

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Bruschi, Woodson both take Titans over Bills (0:25)

Tedy Bruschi sees the Titans defense as the deciding factor vs. the Bills in Week 5. (0:25)

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott's directive this week was loud and clear: He wants LeSean McCoy to get the ball more often.

McCoy's eight total touches -- five runs and three catches -- were not enough in McDermott's eyes to "establish the line of scrimmage" for a Bills offense that was shut out in Sunday's 22-0 loss to the Green Bay Packers. The Bills managed only 145 yards.

"We've had production [from McCoy]," McDermott said Thursday. "It's just a matter of getting into a rhythm. Most backs need [the touches] to get into a rhythm.

"We've been a little bit inconsistent [in the running game] overall, and in this case, [for] LeSean, just because he hasn't been out there enough or had enough touches. That's not on him. That's just my assessment [that] getting him into a rhythm and getting him out there [on the field] needs to work hand in hand."

Volume has indeed been light this season for McCoy, who has 85 rushing yards in the three games he has played. McCoy is averaging 4.0 yards per carry, which would match his career-low mark from last season, but is on pace to end the 2018 season with only 105 carries for 425 yards after rushing 287 times for 1,138 yards in 2017.

Yet for the Bills' offense as a whole, the problem is more complicated than simply feeding McCoy the ball on early downs in hopes of creating more manageable third-down situations for rookie quarterback Josh Allen.

The Bills have already been attempting to establish the run. First-year Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has called running plays on 41.1 percent of first and second downs this season, which is only slightly less than the league average of 41.8 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The issue is none of the Bills' three running backs have been effective in running on first or second downs compared to the rest of the league. Marcus Murphy (4.14 yards per carry) and McCoy (4.05) rank 43rd and 44th on those downs in non-goal line situations (outside of the opponent's 5-yard line) among all NFL running backs. Chris Ivory (2.59) ranks 86th.

It is possible that skewing the distribution of carries toward McCoy will give him the rhythm that will improve his performance on early downs, but the numbers suggest that no matter the rusher, the Bills have not been efficient. They rank 25th in yards per rush (3.73) and 26th in first downs gained by rush (13.8 percent) on first and second downs in non-goal line situations.

Improving the overall running game on early downs should be a goal, but the early-down passing game is arguably more at fault for creating the third-and-long situations that have plagued the Bills.

The Bills average 4.62 net yards per pass attempt on first and second downs, which over a full season would be the third-worst rate in the NFL since 2001, better than only the 2010 Panthers (4.23) and 2011 Jaguars (4.43). Buffalo is gaining first downs on only 19.8 percent of their early-down throws, which would be the second-worst mark in the NFL since 2001 after the Cardinals this season (19.3 percent).

The troubles in the passing game on early downs are not simply a result of Buffalo often playing from behind this season and defenses not expecting running plays. Even when the Bills have been trailing by one possession (eight points) or less -- or the game has been tied, or the Bills have been leading -- Buffalo ranks 30th in net yards per pass attempt (5.31) and are gaining first downs on passes at the NFL's worst rate (19.2 percent) since at least 2001.

Whether it has been the result of inefficient running by McCoy or others, or the product of a horrifically poor passing game, the Bills have been forced into difficult third-down situations. They have faced 36 third downs of at least seven yards or longer, tied for the most in the NFL, and have converted only 24.1 percent of all third downs, which would be the league's third-worst mark since 2001.