ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As often seems to be the case in recent years, a Broncos game will feature a head-to-head matchup of units that are arguably the best at what they do.
On Denver’s side sits a run defense that leads all teams that have played two games, allowing just 52.0 yards per game. For the Bills, it’s a ground game that has ripped off far more explosive runs than any other team in the last three seasons: 49 since Week 1 of the 2015 campaign, with 20 of them coming from LeSean McCoy. No other team has more than 34 runs of 20 or more yards.
It’s par for the early-season course for the Broncos, who have already dealt with the Chargers’ Melvin Gordon and Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott, both of whom they neutralized. After Buffalo, they’ll see Oakland’s Marshawn Lynch.
Buffalo’s stampede began in March 2015, when the the Bills traded for running back LeSean McCoy and signed free-agent quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Since then, the two of them have made the Bills’ ground game the league’s most productive over the long term.
Not only have the Bills led the league in average yards per carry since adding McCoy and Taylor, they’ve led by a wide margin, averaging 4.99 yards per attempt — 0.31 yards more than anyone else, and 0.84 yards above the league average. They pick up first downs at a quicker clip than anyone else, moving the chains once every 3.81 attempts — over a half-carry better than the league average.
McCoy’s abilities and production are well-documented; since he entered the league in 2009, no one has more rushing yardage. He sits 927 yards from the 10,000-yard mark for career rushing yardage and has already surpassed 12,000 yards from scrimmage, and he shows no signs of slowing down.
But McCoy is only part of the problem posed by the Bills. Not only does he lead the league in runs of 20 or more yards since 2015, but Taylor leads all quarterbacks in the same statistic; that ranks 11th in the NFL among all players and is twice as many as any other quarterback.
When looking just at gains of 10 or more yards, the Bills are also the best; since Taylor and McCoy were paired, they’ve picked up a double-digit gain once every 6.7 attempts, which gives them an average of 4.6 double-digit pickups per game. Buffalo has 32 more runs of 10-plus yards since 2015 than anyone else, with Taylor and McCoy accounting for 110 of them — 44 for Taylor, 66 for McCoy.
“Right now [Taylor] has got five 10-yard-plus runs [this season],” Head Coach Vance Joseph said. “That’s huge [as a] quarterback and you’re talking about third-down conversions. Third-and-4, he runs for six or third-and-8, he runs for nine. I watched my game [with the Dolphins] last year at Buffalo and he ran for four long third downs.”
And up front, the Broncos have to be prepared for something their defense saw every day at practice in 2015 and 2016: a zone-blocking scheme guided by offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, who took the principles he utilized in Denver to western New York this offseason.
“They know what we do; we know what they do,” Woods said. “The biggest thing throughout the game is making adjustments to their change-ups. They’re going to have to make adjustments to different things we’re going to do against them.
“And we know them. It should be something that we should be able to see easily. We’ve talked to the guys about that. We just have to do it on game day.”
Another week, another challenge.
“We have our hands full,” Woods said. “We’re going to need all 11 players on deck on Sunday.”