Bills Heavy at RB, Despite a Decreased Rushing Game

Jeffery LandersContributor IJune 12, 2009

ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 21:  Marshawn Lynch #23 and Fred Jackson #22 of the Buffalo Bills celebrate Lynch's first touchdown against the Oakland Raiders on September 21, 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. Buffalo won 24-23. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

The Bills overload at the running back position may look like a logjam to those who expect OC Turk Schoenert to call more no-huddles and expand on the passing game. But a look at the numbers may reveal Buffalo's thinking behind signing Dominic Rhodes to accompany Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson, and Xavier Omon on the sidelines in Orchard Park.

Buffalo ranked 14th in rushing in 2008 at 115.5 yards/game. That was an improvement over the 112.5 yards/game in 2007, but it only bumped the Bills up one spot in the rankings from 15th.

The top five rushing teams the last two years averaged 151.4 in 2008 and 143.1 in 2007. The Bills are 30-35 yards per game away from becoming a top-tier rushing team.

But don't expect that to come easily.

Schoenert, in his second year at OC, wants the offense to work via the passing game. The Bills' signing of Terrell Owens was the first step in that direction. Then Buffalo drafted a good pass-catching TE in Shawn Nelson out of Southern Mississippi to help Derek Fine and Derek Schouman.

The last two years, the Bills have cut back in the running game. In 2007, under then-OC Steve Fairchild, the Bills ran 448 times out of 919 total offensive plays. That equates to a 48.75 percent run-to-pass ratio.

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In 2008 however, the Bills ran just 439 times out of 956 total offensive plays. The percentage decreased to 45.92 percent. This all comes while the top five rushing teams have increased their average rushing attempts from 507 in 2007 to 535 in 2008.

If things continue in the passing game, the way they are going right now, the Bills could cut their pass-to-run percentage to as little as 44-to-45 percent this season.

So why do the Bills need more running backs if the offense is going to go to the air more often than stick to the ground?

It's simple, when Schoenert takes plays away from the running game, he is putting more and more pressure on each running back to make bigger plays and gain more yards per attempt.

One of the most obvious reasons the Bills signed Rhodes is that Lynch will miss three games to start the season, unless a victorious appeal lowers that number. Lynch, however, is a tough runner and prone to getting banged up and miss a game or two with an injury.

Bottom line, though is that if one of the Bills running backs struggles to help produce the extra yards per attempt this season, the coaching staff will have the option to turn to a second, third, or fourth rusher if needed.

Here's a look at the numbers from the past two seasons of the four running backs expected to make the roster:

Name    Year    Games    Attempts   Yards       Average     Touchdowns
Lynch    2008     15           250       1,036        4.1                 8
            2007     13           280       1,115        4.0                 7
            Ave       14           265      1,075.5      4.1                7.5

Jackson  2008     16          130         571         4.4                 3
            2007      8            58         300          4.8                 0 
             Ave.     12           94         435.5       4.6                1.5

Rhodes  2008*    15          152         538         3.5                  6
            2007*   10           75          302         4.0                  1
            Ave.      12.5       113.5       420        3.75                3.5

Omon** 2008       2            6             5           0.8                 0

*Rhodes spent 2008 with the Colts and 2007 with the Raiders.

**The Bills drafted Omon in 2008

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