Buffalo’s running back situation for its matchup against New England this Sunday won’t be determined until game day.
The Bills will need all they can get from Jackson this Sunday against the Patriots considering Spiller looks to be out. Buffalo got away with not having either of them for most of the game in Cleveland, but they are going to need all the firepower they have to match points with New England's offense.
It would be easy for Gailey to put more responsibility of the offense on Ryan Fitzpatrick’s shoulders with the running back situation up in the air.
But that would be a huge mistake for the offense—and the team as a whole.
Tashard Choice and Johnny White combined for 22 carries and 106 yards after Spiller went down against the Browns. A 4.8 yards per carry average is a solid chunk of yards on running plays. Choice and White don’t have the big-play ability of Spiller or even Jackson, but they both should get a significant number of carries if they’re the only healthy running backs.
The possibility of Jackson playing Sunday looks more promising with each passing day, and his presence in the backfield will be a huge boost for the team’s psyche. Jackson's return will also provide the Bills with a key offensive weapon, and one who has a recent history of success against the Patriots.
The last time Jackson played against New England’s defense he racked up 161 total yards in the win last September. The Patriots gave up 150 all-purpose yards to Ray Rice in Week 3, so it doesn’t look like New England’s defense has improved.
Much has also been made of how Jackson is the leader of the team.
Remember, after Buffalo beat New England last year in Orchard Park, Jackson led the celebration, proudly waiving the Bills flag. Jackson being in the lineup against the Patriots will most certainly boost the play of his Buffalo teammates, if only because they see how hard he’s working to try and get on the field.
And I believe Jackson understands just how big this week is. Players and coaches may downplay the significance of an early-season matchup and trot out the old “it’s-just-another-game” line.
But we all know it's not.
Whoever is in the backfield this Sunday needs to get the ball because Fitzpatrick still hasn't shown he can be trusted to win games this season. I was surprised to find out he had 22 completions against Cleveland last week, though he only threw for 208 yards.
I don’t know whether Fitzpatrick is afraid to throw deep or if Gailey doesn’t call any long plays because he doesn’t trust Fitz on high-risk passes. Either way, Buffalo still doesn’t make opposing defenses respect its ability to throw downfield.
Other NFL teams will catch up to Bills short-passing game soon enough and take it away. But as long as the Bills can run the ball the way they have, it’s better to run safer plays and not turn the ball over.
Whether it’s Jackson, Spiller, Choice, White or Brad Smith in the Wildcat, Buffalo needs to stick with the run, especially this week. Controlling the clock and keeping Tom Brady off the field will be at a premium.
Fred Jackson coming back gives the Bills a legitimate shot at repeating last year’s upset over New England.