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Rediscovering the run game

Posted Oct 11, 2012


For the first quarter of the season Buffalo’s average yards per carry went down with each passing week from 6.7 yards per carry in the opener to 3.6 in Week 4 against New England. Week 1’s 169-yard outburst by C.J. Spiller seems to be in the distant past, but buried in the sacking the Bills endured in San Francisco was an efficient ground game that could be ready to truly rebound Sunday.

Buffalo had just 19 carries last Sunday, their lowest total of the season, but gained 4.7 yards per carry. They may have run the ball more had the scoreboard not been so lopsided. Week 5 was the first time since Week 1 that the Bills average gain on the ground exceeded the offense’s average gain per play. It’s a sign that Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are closer to full strength.

“Just the health of Fred and C.J. has been a little bit of an issue with them not being 100 percent the last two weeks,” said Ryan Fitzpatrick. “I think it will help us because they’re healthy now. We’ve got to plug in some pieces up front, but that’ll be one of our main challenges this week, getting the ground game going and getting those guys their touches.”

Jackson admitted that the moving parts up front have affected to fluidity the run game enjoyed before the injuries struck. His average yards per carry are an indication of that. With a career yards per carry average of 4.6, Jackson the past two games has averaged 2.63 per carry. Spiller has been just over a yard better at 3.8, but that pales in comparison to his fat 10 yards per carry average through the first two weeks of the season.

“You come in with the five starters that you know and then we have injuries, but you can’t use that as an excuse,” said Spiller. “Those guys have been to meetings. I think a lot of guys they stepped in there they just don’t have the experience like the other guys, but I think they’re prepared. Coach Joe ‘D’ does a good job of getting those guys ready. I think they’ll be fine.”

“And I have a brace on and that doesn’t help,” said Jackson, who still isn’t sure doctors will clear him to shed the brace Sunday. “But I think I’m over that now and hopefully I can continue to go out there and progress and get better.”

That won’t be an easy task facing the league’s fourth-best run defense in the Cardinals. That fact doesn’t have head coach Chan Gailey deterred. He knows his two backs are the engine of Buffalo’s offense and if they’re not running right the attack often stalls.

“We need to get (the run game production) back and if we don’t get that back we’ll struggle offensively,” he said. “We’ve got to have a balanced running game to complement our passing game. It’s going to be important to use both of them and get them both involved and be able to let them go play.”

Jackson and Spiller split the snaps almost down the middle with Jackson getting 22 snaps and nine carries while Spiller had 24 snaps and seven carries. For now that split will continue despite the argument that both backs often perform better when they’re in a rhythm and progress as the game wears on.

“I don’t know how to solve that problem when you have two great players at the same position,” said Gailey. “If one of them all of a sudden gets a hot hand then it’s easy to figure out. Going into a game you have two great players and you want to play them as equal as possible and then you see how the game is going, that’s what you do.”

At this point the Bills don’t care which one of them is delivering plays, they’re just hopeful their ground game can be the catalyst to putting points on the board and taking the heat off their defense.

“We have to make some big plays,” said Jackson. “We have not made big plays consistently in our offense for the last two weeks and that is hurting us. We have to be able to establish the running game with myself and C.J. (Spiller). We have to get that going early. If we do that it is going to take some pressure off everybody else.”