Buffalo’s Week 14 meeting with the Philadelphia Eagles has a little something extra to it, given it’s LeSean McCoy’s first trip back to the City of Brotherly Love since Chip Kelly traded him to the Bills this past off-season. Without question this game means a bit more to McCoy than anyone, but it’s also an important one in regards to Buffalo’s playoff hopes. Here are some things they must do to get a win down in Philadelphia.
1) LeSean McCoy must compartmentalize his emotions and let his play do the talking
Everyone is expecting McCoy to have a monster week and for good reason – he’s going to be playing with a huge chip on his shoulders this week, given the circumstances. However, it’s important he doesn’t let those emotions get the best of him and he knows that. Lost in his comments about not shaking Chip Kelly’s hand was some very unselfish talk too. “I think any player going back to his old home, you know, wants to have a good game. The main thing is just getting a win,” McCoy said. “So it going to be a tense environment for sure. I know how Philly fans can get. And it is a game they must win also, they want to keep their playoff hopes alive and same with us.”
Later on he added, “I don’t want to make it a LeSean McCoy type of thing because we got to win this game. Knowing that I could go for 200 yards and lose like how do you feel then. You know what I mean? I don’t want to make it that type of game.” And at one point towards the end of the interview McCoy even mentioned how he wants to play well every week, regardless of the opponent.
There is no denying he’s an emotional guy and that’s likely going to be driving him in this game maybe more so than past ones. It sounds like he understands he can’t let his feelings get the best of him by getting baited into a silly penalty or worse. He’s talked the talk this week and now he has to walk to walk, otherwise it will all just be viewed as one big distraction that cost his team a crucial game. McCoy certainly knows what this contest means to him, but more importantly he’s aware of what it means for his team as well. That’s a good thing. Use that emotion to run harder, play harder, inspire your teammates to play harder for you. Just remember to keep it in check out on the field and it better earn the Bills a W.
2) The Bills’ defense must stop the run on early downs
On paper the Bills’ defensive front with Marcell Dareus, Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams still intact, should have a favorable matchup against an Eagles O-line that has surrendered 28 sacks this season. That should bode well for stopping Philadelphia’s run game as well, which is a huge key in this one. Buffalo should want to force Sam Bradford to pass the ball. He’s been generally ineffective this season with one of the league’s worst passer rating of 83.5, a 63.5 completion percentage and a mere 13 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. It’s by no means the performance Chip Kelly was expecting to get when he swapped QBs with the St. Louis Rams. Bradford hasn’t shown an ability to really ‘light up’ opposing defenses this season. In fact he’s thrown for over 300 yards in a game only twice this year, with one coming against New Orleans – who owns the second worst passing defense in the league – and the other against the Atlanta Falcons back in Week One.
Nonetheless forcing Bradford to beat you is an obvious advantage for any team, which is why stopping the run is going to be key. The Eagles have sneakily pulled themselves to 12th overall in rushing yards this season, with 1,388 of them to this point and a solid 4.0 yards per attempt average. Now, Demarco Murray – brought in as McCoy’s replacement in the backfield – has been generally ineffective this season with just 569 yards, a 3,5 average per attempt and four touchdowns. This, just a season removed from being the league’s rushing leader. His frustrations with usage have been well documented as recently as last week, where he was reportedly sitting with team owner Jeffrey Lurie on the plane ride home from New England, discussing his role in the offense. While Murray has maybe sputtered this season it’s Philadelphia’s running back by committee system that has allowed them to have a somewhat effective rushing attack. Darren Sproles is coming off his best rushing performance of 2015 – 15 carries for 66 yards – and when healthy, Ryan Mathews has posted a solid 5.8 yards per attempt average on top of being a factor in the passing game. Mathews is expected to play this week against Buffalo and could see a bulk of the carries. The Bills must be ready for different looks with different backs, but the bottom remains the same – they need stop the run and force Bradford to throw the ball more, in order to win the game.
3) The Bills defense must be well conditioned on defense
Hopefully conditioning was an emphasis at practice this week because the Eagles offense averages 68.8 plays per game. That is the second highest average per game in the league and it’s no secret really. Kelly’s offensive scheme has always been uptempo, full speed ahead, dating back to his days at Oregon. Shutting down drives before they can really get going is essential. Additionally, Buffalo keeping their offense on the field for extended drives would be a big help too. But should Philadelphia find some rhythm and string together a longer drive here or there against an injury riddled Bills’ defense, they have to be find a way to dig deep and get a stop, even when they’re feeling the effects of those 68 plays per game. If thee Bills are successful at the aforementioned must – stopping the run on early downs – than this one kind of becomes a non-factor. However, every now and then the Eagles offense finds their stride and goes on a long drive. It happened last week in New England on a 12 play 80-yard drive that started late in the third quarter. At some point it will happen. Buffalo just has to be ready for the heavy dose of plays they’re going to face on defense to keep it from happening multiple times, otherwise it could cost them the game.