5 things to know about Bills: Buffalo's fortunes tied to health of RB LeSean McCoy

October 25, 2016 - 7:12 am

[caption id="attachment_113045" align="alignright" width="350"]LeSean McCoy's health will bear watching this week. (Kevin Hoffman/USA Today Sports) LeSean McCoy's health will bear watching this week. (Kevin Hoffman/USA Today Sports)[/caption] Five things you have to know about the Bills, who will host the Patriots Sunday at New Era Field. 1. They run the ball better than almost anyone else in the league. It remains to be seen just how impactful LeSean McCoy's hamstring issue is going to be — he left last Sunday's game against Miami after re-aggravating the injury — but when McCoy is right, the Bills have one of the best running games in the NFL. They average 152.3 rushing yards per contest, the second-best total in the league behind the Cowboys (161.2). McCoy leads the team with 112 carries, 598 yards and six touchdowns. (The 5.3 yards per carry is second in the league.) Quarterback Tyrod Taylor has 41 carries for 271 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Buffalo topped the 100-yard rushing plateau four times in its first seven games of the season, including 134 in the first meeting with the Patriots and (Are we sure this isn't a misprint?) 313 yards on the ground against the Niners. The key to everything? McCoy, who is as dynamic a back as you'll find. His health will certainly bear watching over the course of the week. There was plenty of debate surrounding the wisdom of having him try to play against the Dolphins. If Rex Ryan blew him out against Miami and isn't available for this week's showdown with the Patriots, the folks in upstate New York won't be happy. 2. They struggle in the passing game. Taylor has made real gains under center over the last year, but the bottom line is that, at least statistically, he's no better than a middle-of-the-road quarterback. In seven games, he's completed 60 percent of his passes (116-for-192) for 1,297 yards, nine touchdowns, two interceptions and a passer rating of 91.9. When he throws it, he's going to look for wide receiver Robert Woods (25 catches on 37 targets, 240 yards, 1 TD), tight end Charles Clay (24 catches, 36 targets, 268 yards), McCoy (20 catches, 23 targets, 97 yards, 1 TD) and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (12 catches, 32 targets, 258 yards, 3 TDs). At 21.5 yards per catch, Goodwin is the closest thing to a true deep threat/home-run hitter the Bills have, at least until Sammy Watkins comes back from his foot injury. 3. They've been really good at turnover ratio. The Bills are good at taking care of the football, and also good at taking it away. Buffalo is second in the league when it comes to turnover rate at plus-eight, trailing only the Vikings (plus-11). Cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Nickell Robey-Coleman have two interceptions each, while linebacker Preston Brown has two fumble recoveries and Lorenzo Alexander has three forced fumbles. On the other side of the ball, while Taylor isn't overwhelming on offense, only three other teams have thrown fewer picks this season than the Bills (New England, Dallas and Minnesota). 4. Lorenzo Alexander leads a good defense. Wait, who? Alexander is one of our favorites stories of the season. The former journeyman who signed with the Panthers as an undrafted free agent out of Cal more than a decade ago bounced from Carolina to Baltimore to Washington to Arizona to Oakland before landing in Buffalo. Now, he's made the most of his chance with the Bills, as the 33-year-old leads the NFL with nine sacks. The 6-foot-1, 244-pounder made his bones as a special teamer before landing a full-time gig on defense (thanks in part to the health issues suffered by first-round pick Shaq Lawson), and has managed to become a key part of their early-season success. Alexander is the first player since Jared Allen in 2011 to record a sack in each of the first seven games of a season, and is the first Buffalo defender to register a sack in seven straight games since Bruce Smith did it almost 20 years ago. Bill Belichick also singled out linebacker Zach Brown (two sacks, a league-high 74 combined tackle) as someone who is having a good season as well. Overall, the Bills are eighth in the league in points allowed per game (18.7), 11th against the pass (235.7 yards per game) and 27th against the run (125 yards per game). 5. They're probably a little below average when it comes to special teams. Kicker Dan Carpenter is 9-for-11 on field-goal attempts and 20-for-22 on extra points. Punter Colton Schmidt is 27th in the league in average (43.7) and 16th in net (40.5). As a team, the Bills are 28th when it comes to kick returns (18.4 yards) and 32nd in punt returns (3.9 yards). They do not have a return for touchdown in either department.