The Buffalo Bills have struggled to run the ball this season. Amidst massive offensive line changes and a three-game suspension to former starting running back Marshawn Lynch at the outset of the season, the Bills have surpassed 100 rushing yards as a team in just 6 of 13 games this season, to the team's overall offensive detriment.
Things are turning around for this unit, however. Interim head coach Perry Fewell has re-established the importance of the running game into his offensive game plans, and as a result, the Bills have rushed for over 100 yards as a team in three of Fewell's first four games as the head man, all in the last three contests. Buffalo's 200-yard rushing effort in yesterday's win over the Kansas City Chiefs may have been their most dominant ground performance of the season.
Why are the Bills suddenly running the ball well? It has a lot to do with the fact that the team has finally strung together a few games in which the same offensive line has started. Buffalo has begun games with seven different line combinations this season - most in the NFL - but in their last three games, the Bills have been fortunate to start the same five along the offensive line (Jonathan Scott, Andy Levitre, Geoff Hangartner, Kendall Simmons and Kirk Chambers). Say what you want about the quality of our opponents or the issues that remain up front, but continuity has played an important role in the run game increases over the past three weeks.
This is a trend that needs to continue, particularly if Fewell is serious about removing the interim tag from his current job title. The only thing that matters to Fewell's job prospects right now is wins. Forget style points. Fewell doesn't need them. He just needs to keep winning, and if he wants to do it, he'll continue to emphasize the running game.
Lynch and Fred Jackson are simply too good to not get touches. Yes, the same can be said of Terrell Owens and Lee Evans, but let's face facts - Ryan Fitzpatrick is much more adept at getting touches for Lynch and Jackson than he is for Owens and Evans. If you want those receivers to get the ball, run a reverse.
Speaking of Fitzpatrick, a good running game is his best friend. It opens up the play-action game and, as much of that particular brand of offensive football features rollouts, it allows Fitzpatrick to utilize the one consistent strength to his game - his ability to make plays with his legs.
The offensive line is OK with a run-dominated offensive game plan, too. This is a group that has fatal pass protection flaws. They only gave up two sacks to the Chiefs, and the fact that that two-sack performance feels like a milestone achievement should speak volumes. But no matter how deficient this unit is pass-blocking, they know how to run block, because every blue-collar offensive lineman knows how to run block. It's what they've done their entire lives. There are no finesse players on this line. Every one of those guys is physical and plays the game with the correct demeanor. Their strength is in run-blocking. They may not be very good at it, but it's what they're best at. Let them continue to do what they're best at.
In 2008, Jackson and Lynch combined to rush for 1,607 yards and 11 touchdowns on 380 carries. Buffalo's quarterback play has gotten worse from '08 to '09, as hard as that is to believe, and as a result, the rushing numbers have suffered; the two backs have 1,153 yards and 4 touchdowns on 284 carries this season. But in their last three games, their numbers have picked up, with the two backs rushing for 353 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Buffalo's next three opponents are ranked Nos. 17 (New England), 23 (Atlanta) and 18 (Indianapolis) against the run. The matchups are there for the Bills to keep running the ball effectively. It's what Buffalo's offense does best, and the team's two most consistent threats just happen to be runners. Knowing Fewell's preferred brand of football and his quest for a starting job, the Bills should - and likely will - keep pounding the rock.