What he didn't get right, though, was his response to it.
Instead of completely getting away from the running game, what Buffalo needed to do was find different ways to get the running game involved.
"They were playing seven big guys in the box against our three wide sets and you’re trying to run them out of that," Gailey said after the game (via BuffaloBills.com). "You’re trying to throw the football to run them out of it and we weren’t able to do it. We had some passes that were dropped at times. We had some missed time penalties and it cost us offensively. We weren’t able to move it consistently and get in the end zone."
...we would like to [get the ball to our running backs more] and we got to try to do that on a more consistent basis. Some weeks are better than others and sometimes they take things away from you that you don’t think they’re going to do but they did. They surprised us with a defense we hadn’t seen very much and we had to alter. I got to do a better job of adjusting.
The Bills were not effective running the ball in the first quarter. Running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller carried the ball four times for three yards, and Jackson added a three-yard reception. Spiller was bottled up on a 3rd-and-1 run that had the ball-carrier running straight into the teeth of the Texans defense, while Jackson's three-yard reception was bottled up on 3rd-and-forever.
Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said after the game (via BuffaloBills.com):
They did a nice job with the personnel they had in, basically taking us out of a lot of our three wide receiver run game. They did a good job of that. We tried to run a little bit early with two tights and they did a good job of taking that away.
We felt like we had a better chance getting the ball in the air a little bit, trying to go against those one on one matchups. I mean the story of the day for us is we’ve got to get C.J. more touches. I think everybody knows that and we’ve got to find ways to do that.
It seemed like the Bills had found their in-game adjustment that would get the running game going.
On 2nd-and-1 from Buffalo's 35-yard line, Fitzpatrick lined up in the shotgun with the 11 personnel: one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers. This spread the defense out, leaving only six men in the box.
Fitzpatrick gave the delayed handoff to Spiller, who had a beautiful cutback to find the hole and picked up five yards on the run.
That happened once again with :22 remaining in the first half, with the Bills at Houston's 36-yard line. The Bills came out in the 11 personnel grouping in the shotgun formation, and the Texans lined up with five men in the box and six total defensive backs.
This time, Spiller bounced the run through the C-gap and got to the outside, making it to the sideline 22 yards later.
Jackson and Spiller both have a skill set that allows them to excel when they get into open space, and their quickness and elusiveness makes them hard to tackle in those situations.
That is why the Bills have tried to get the ball to their backs in the passing game as well.
See, for example, this 1st-and-10 play in the second quarter. The Bills came out in the shotgun with 11 personnel, with the Texans defense in the base 3-4.
Fitzpatrick baited the Texans front seven into the backfield, opening up space for Spiller in the middle of the field.
With Spiller in a one-on-one matchup, it simply became a foot race, and Spiller followed his blocks all the way to the sideline, where he broke up-field and picked up 28 yards.
After that play, with the ball in the red zone, Fitzpatrick dropped back three times, twice from the shotgun and once from an empty set, and the Texans got pressure every time. The Bills were held to a field-goal try, and kicker Rian Lindell missed from 37 yards out.
Obviously, not every play will be as effective as that 28-yard pickup, and the Bills backs only picked up 77 yards on 10 receptions on Sunday against the Texans, but for the Bills to only get the ball into the hands of their two stellar backs a combined 22 times, that simply won't do.
"He could be an every-down back. I don't see any reason he couldn't carry 20-25 if he needed to," Gailey said of Spiller this offseason (via ESPN). "But he’s a valuable, versatile player. ...We’re fortunate to have two very good backs. I’m going to try to make sure we keep them fresh and wear ‘em out at the same time."
Right now, he's doing a great job of keeping them fresh.
The case could be made that Spiller should get the ball more often than Jackson. After all, the back averages a league-high 7.2 yards per carry. Either way, the running game is clearly the strength of the offense and needs to be the focus as well.
It must be difficult for a pass-oriented offensive mind like Gailey to continually put the ball in the hands of the running game even when it's not effective, but as the strength of his team, it's imperative that he keeps at it.
But the Bills continually got away from the run in situations where it looked like they might finally get into rhythm, and they got away from it altogether over the course of the game.
They opened up the second half with three consecutive shotgun passes, all of which were incomplete.
The Bills teased success in the passing game on their second drive of the second half, with a 15-yard pass to receiver Donald Jones and a 27-yard strike to tight end Scott Chandler that helped put the team in field-goal range.
That gave the Bills a false sense of confidence in their passing game, because on their next two drives, they dropped back to throw six times and gained five yards, going three-and-out both times. Again, the deficit was not overwhelming, with the Bills behind by five points on the first of those drives and by 12 points on the second.
Jackson and Spiller combined for three carries and eight total touches in the second half.
Being effective in the passing game was a key to a victory this week, but certainly not at the expense of a solid performance from the running game.
This stat, courtesy of Bleacher Report Bills featured columnist Chris Trapasso, is all you really need to know:
#Bills RB C.J. Spiller is averaging more yards per carry (7.2) than Ryan Fitzpatrick's average yards per attempt (6.5).— Chris Trapasso (@ChrisTrapasso) November 5, 2012
Gailey has often been labeled as an offensive genius. That label is losing its adhesive and is peeling week by week. He can salvage it by learning from the transgressions of the Texans game, but his track record says that's not likely to happen.
The Bills have thrown the ball more than they've run it every year under Gailey, gradually increasing the differential year by year. They're on pace for 106 more drop-backs than rushing attempts this year.
That will be the lowest differential since before Gailey took over (2009 was Dick Jauron's final year), but for these Bills as presently constructed, the differential should be flipped in favor of the run. It's up to the coaching staff to find a way to create more balance in the offense.
If not, they could be looking for new work come January.
The Bills, now at 3-5, seem headed for their fourth consecutive losing season under Gailey. How much longer can it last?
"The age-old thing—and they've done it around here for years—is to start over about every three years," Bills GM Buddy Nix said on Friday (per The Buffalo News). "What that does is make damn sure you don't make it. You change every three years and you never quite get there. That's my take."
For now, it appears, change is far from imminent.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.
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