Chris Ivory will Bring Balance to the Offense

03/08/2018
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Whenever I hear the name Chris Ivory, I immediately think back to when he came into the league out of Tiffin. That was the 2010 season, and he was buried on the New Orleans Saints depth chart. Running backs such as Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, Julius Jones, and Ladell Betts all received 170+ snaps that season, including Ivory. But it was Ivory that led that team in rushing touchdowns with five and averaged the most yards per carry with 5.2.

His career yards per carry is 4.3, which is pretty good, and that includes the two past seasons where he mustered only 3.8 and 3.4 with the Jacksonville Jaguars. His tenure in Jacksonville was not what he had expected after signing a big deal there. Ivory only started four games after starting 24 the prior two years, including his 2015 Pro Bowl season.

But the Bills aren’t looking for a starter; they are looking for a complement to their star running back LeSean McCoy. Ivory should be able to fill that role nicely.

Ivory’s experience in Sean Payton‘s complex system, along with Chan Gailey’s diverse scheme, really sets him up well for Daboll’s. It’s a playbook that will likely feature more vertical movement from the offensive line, as opposed to the horizontal displacement stressed by Rick Dennison‘s run game. This means more inside zone, more downhill running, and as a change of pace back, Ivory following Shady could cause defenders problems.

You always hear people say a running back is a violent or angry runner, and Ivory definitely is. He is the type of player that loves to initiate contact and finish runs, a back that won’t just run out of bounds to avoid a hit. No, he will lower his shoulder to let you know he is there or even shoot a stiff arm out as he is driven out of bounds. His split leg running style is Marshawn Lynch-esque, and it really helps him maintain his balance, quite possibly his strongest trait.

On this play, the Jags run a concept Bills fans are familiar with, the pin and pull. Ivory cuts it back and busts out a spin move on All-Pro Earl Thomas. Keep in mind that Thomas has him leveraged and is one of the most technically sound tacklers in the game. Just a great demonstration of play speed and athleticism by Ivory.

 

Even as Ivory is in his late 20s, he still has the ability to make defenders miss. He possesses the ability to get defenders off balance, forcing them to attempt to tackle the strong back with arm tackles. He is able to do this with his lateral ability. Some backs are able to make jump cuts with suddenness, leading to them eluding the defender (e.g. McCoy). Ivory wouldn’t be categorized as a sudden cutter; when he makes his jump cut it comes with power and the ability to break tackles. The defender may get a piece of him, but he is able to break the tackle and get up field.

 

While I do believe Bills fans were a little tough on running back Mike Tolbert last season, there is no denying that Ivory is a different back. The lateral agility Ivory demonstrates is on another level. He shows off his lateral ability, jump cutting several gaps to his left.

 

He appears to be more comfortable getting downhill, then bouncing it, rather than running wide and cutting it back. That’s ok, as we should expect Daboll to get back to what the Bills did well under Greg Roman and Anthony Lynn by getting vertical movement on the line of scrimmage. Here, they again run ‘Duo’ (click to learn more about this concept), a power, gap concept. The offensive linemen are getting two sets of combo blocks with the center working back towards the Will linebacker, and it’s up to Ivory to read the Mike linebacker.

 

Ivory gets his eyes on the middle linebacker, Bednardick McKinney, and decides to bounce it to the weak side.

 

It was a smart decision because the Texans’ run fits were great to the strength of the formation, but his spin move was just better.

 

According to NextGen Stats, Ivory saw an eight man box at a 50.89% rate last season, but he was considered to be the 10th-most efficient running back in those situations. He is very good in these situations if he is going downhill because he has sufficient vision and burst to gain positive yardage. Here, the Jaguars run another downhill attack play called BOB (back on backer).

 

It’s the zone version of Iso. Ivory feels the front side congestion, so he bends it back to the field. But as he does, the safety #36 and defensive end #75 regain outside leverage.

 

So Ivory cuts it back inside for a six-yard gain.

 

He possesses a running style that I believe is going to win most fans over. It’s really fun to watch. Inside zone appears to be his bread and butter because has has a unique blend of one cut ability, powerful cuts, and then the north/south mindset, something that he mentioned during his interview:

“I would describe myself more as a north-south runner. I think I bring – I’m a physical guy. I can run between the tackles and I think I don’t get noticed as much for [what] I can do in space.”

 

You see all of that come to fruition on the following play. The Jaguars call inside zone with split flow by the tight end. Ivory avoids the defensive end but then immediately gets north/south. But then his burst is on full display as he runs the ladder outside for a great gain.

 

In 2017, Ivory was rated as the 19th-most elusive back, according to Pro Football Focus. A few guys behind him were CJ Anderson, Le’Veon Bell, Jonathan Stewart, and Mark Ingram. He forced 15 missed tackles in the run game and another 10 in the receiving game, and that was with only three games as a starter. When Fournette was starting, Ivory was relegated to backup carries and third down situations.

But he is no slouch in that role. He will be a key contributor in the screen game regardless of whether he is the backup or starter.

 

Again, having played in Payton’s and Gailey’s offenses, two of the best screen callers in the NFL, Ivory was a fixture.

Ivory’s receiving stats per Pro Football Focus. Lots of screens and checkdowns.

 

He knows how to sell and time up screens, and of course his play speed comes in handy once in the open field. In all, he was targeted 26 times, of which he caught 21 for 175 yards and this touchdown.

 

While initially I thought the Bills overpaid for Ivory, after taking all the factors into account I think it is a good move. The team gets a dependable back who, if in a pinch, can start. He is a tough runner who will complement Shady’s style. Teams will be exhausted after chasing McCoy in the run and pass game, then Ivory can come in, pound the rock downhill, and take advantage of sloppy, tired tacklers. Ivory may not have that 4.48 forty-yard dash speed anymore, but his lateral agility is ridiculous this many years into his career.

He was a solid short yardage back last season because of his decisive mindset.

 

But he needs to realize when to give up to live another play. Throughout his career he has a tendency to continue to fight when wrapped up, and secondary defenders come and rip the ball out. Over the last two seasons Ivory has fumbled it 7 times, of which he lost 5.

 

Fans shouldn’t worry about this front office and personnel department. They have done a good job in the short time they have been in Buffalo. Beane has shown that he and his scouts can find starters and very good role players in free agency and the draft, and the signing of Ivory shouldn’t been seen any differently.

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