While some NFL teams tend to rely on one running back—the Titans' Chris Johnson and the Rams' Steven Jackson come to mind—the Buffalo Bills appear to be set on going with a hybrid three-back attack for the upcoming season.
The Bills' defense was on the field for more than four minutes a game on average compared to the opposition defense last season. That's not exactly a winning formula. In addition, the Bills' defense gave up 97 conversions on third down, almost double the 51 third downs the Bills' offense converted.
Clearly last year's Buffalo Bills were a broken team, and needed to be fixed. You could probably say that for the entire decade for that matter. We can sit here and moan about all of the injuries last year and the firing of the offensive coordinator before the start of the season, but this team really needed a major overhaul.
A change was needed, so Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey were hired to build and coach the Bills back to a winning organization. They threw out the majority of the old coaching staff, canned the old defensive scheme, and hired George Edwards to come in to run the new 3-4 alignment. Gailey promises to run the ball more, and will keep the defense off the field and the offense on the field more in 2010 should he prove to be successful.
What Can We Project for the Bills Rushing Game in 2010? Who Produces What?
For starters, you have to believe that Fred Jackson will emerge as the featured running back this season. Jackson was the first player in NFL history to rush for more than 1,000 yards and return kicks for more than 1,000 yards. He also netted over 370 receiving yards and totaled over 2,500 all-purpose yards, the fourth-highest total in NFL history.
How do you show a guy like that the bench? You don't. Jackson earned his starting role in spades and will be the main guy this year running the ball for the Bills. He should see his role reduced to just focusing on being a running back this year, which will keep him more fresh. But when Jackson needs a blow, who will be the guy that steps up and makes an impact this year?
Prior to the 2009 season, Marshawn Lynch was top dog in running the ball for the Bills. A power back, his average per carry has been okay—from 4.0 yards per carry in 2007, to 4.1 in 2008 and 3.8 in 2009. Fred Jackson meanwhile averaged 5.2 in 2007, 4.4 in 2008, and 4.5 in 2009. Lynch's rushing totals have slipped from 1,115 in 2007 to 1,036 in 2008 to an abysmal 450 in 2009.
Yet despite the drop in production, the Bills have held on to Lynch and expect to carve out a role for him in the offense. What role will he have compared to the one the Bills anticipate for C.J. Spiller?
At the draft, although many experts thought the Bills would opt for a left tackle or a quarterback, Buddy Nix saw the opportunity to add a playmaker in C.J. Spiller and selected him with the ninth overall pick, sprinting the pick up to the podium as if to emphasize the point.
Examples Of The Dynamics That C.J. Spiller Brings To The Buffalo Bills :
Freshman year at Clemson: Longest rush - 80 yards. Longest catch - 82 yards.
Sophomore year: Longest rush - 83 yards. Longest catch - 68 yards.
Junior year: Longest rush - 57 yards. Longest catch - 83 yards.
Senior year: Longest rush - 66 yards. Longest catch - 63 yards.
Spiller is a dynamic home run threat either rushing the ball or catching the ball, and you can bet the Bills will give him the opportunity to do both this year. I don't know how often he will get the rock this year, but it would be a crime to not give him at least double-digit touches every game to let him do his thing.
The three-headed running back approach that is the new Bills attack may actually be in the best interests of Spiller to break in as a rookie to the NFL. C.J. can watch and learn from Jackson and Lynch and see what the defenses are doing to stop the running game. He can observe how the linebackers are covering the backs out of the backfield. He can also see how they set up defenders to break tackles or how they gain yardage after initial contact.
When it is his time to come in to the game, either on third down plays or to be part of a specific player package for a given play, C.J. will be rested and ready to fly past the defense. Get him the ball in the open field via sweeps, draws, screen passes, reverses, line him up in the slot, isolate him on a linebacker, and sit back and watch him go.
From a recent historical perspective, the Bills rushed for 116 yards a game last season, which meant they rushed 424 times, totaling 1,867 yards for the season, averaging 4.4 yards a rush. In the 2008 season, the Bills generated similar numbers, rushing 439 times for 1,842 yards, averaging 4.2 yards per rush. Okay numbers, but not great.
The Bills have a young offensive line that got some valuable experience last season. Provided that the injured players from last year return and stay healthy, this group looks to be athletic and tough. Lineman like Eric Wood, Andy Levitre, Demetrius Bell, and Jamon Meredith return with rookies Ed Wang and Kyle Calloway coming on board to join veterans Geoff Hangartner and Cornell Green.
True, they do not have the franchise left tackle yet, but who is to say that Demetrius Bell can't grow in to a very serviceable one? Jamon Meredith shows promise and I am anxious to see what a full training camp will do for him and to develop overall offensive line chemistry.
So what is my projection for the 2010 season? Provided that the three backs remain on the Bills roster all season and stay healthy, I will go on record and predict that the Bills will rush for more than 2,000 yards this season. This is basically a leap in faith that the rash of injuries from last year is a thing of the past and that the line will hold up this year.
I see Fred Jackson repeating with another 1,000 yard plus season, and C.J. Spiller and Marshawn Lynch will split the remaining 1,000 yards. Lynch will see his average yards per carry continue to drop as he will be the "short down and distance specialist" and probably be called on close to the goal line to pick up the tough final yard or two.
The problem in forecasting C.J. Spiller is due to all of the uncertainty with other factors in the Bills offense. With so many unproven NFL caliber receivers on the roster, we have no way of knowing yet who will be the Bills number two receiver behind Lee Evans. If that turns out to be Spiller himself, then that answers the question of what his role is.
Spiller probably will be involved in the return game, in addition to running the ball 10-12 plays a game and catching four-to-six passes a game. Having interviewed him last week, C.J. said that the coaches haven't even sat down with him yet to spell out what role they envision for this year. He also needs to sign a contract as well.
In conclusion, I project that the Bills offense will function better this season due to the addition of Chan Gailey's play-calling ability, being able to take the best elements of what each player can do, and utilizing the unique three running back approach to keep opposition defenses off-balance, winded, and beat up.
What do Bills fans think? Do you want to make any projections yourself as to the Bills' rushing game for 2010?