For most NFL teams, having two running backs capable of putting up big numbers is a very nice problem to have. For the Buffalo Bills and head coach Chan Gailey, it's just a problem.
In two years running Buffalo's offense, Gailey has yet to figure out how to successfully incorporate a second running back productively into his offense. Let's discount the first four games of his tenure, when Marshawn Lynch complicated the picture; in the 28 games since, the Bills have used Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller - and then Spiller and Tashard Choice - "in tandem," but only one back has been productive. Just look at the numbers.
|PER-GAME AVERAGE: Games 5-26 (22 games)|
|Fred Jackson||17 carries||81 yards||3 receptions||30 yards||111 scrimmage yards||12 total TD|
|C.J. Spiller||4 carries||16 yards||1 reception||9 yards||25 scrimmage yards||1 total TD|
|Group per-game TD average: 0.59|
|PER-GAME AVERAGE: Games 27-32 (6 games)|
|C.J. Spiller||14 carries||74 yards||4 receptions||31 yards||105 scrimmage yards||5 total TD|
|Tashard Choice||4 carries||12 yards||1 reception||9 yards||21 scrimmage yards||1 total TD|
|Group per-game TD average: 1.0|
Much has been made about Spiller's production over the final six games of the 2011 season as Jackson's injury fill-in, and with good reason: this is the type of production that we've expected for 32 games from the former Top 10 pick, and not just the last six.
Clearly, Gailey believes in having a No. 1 back get the bulk of the touches, as well as in getting a change-of-pace back a few touches per game. The problem here, of course, is that despite whatever pre-conceived notions Gailey has about Spiller's ability to handle a full workload, he has two No. 1 backs on his roster. Spiller can no longer be considered a change of pace. Both beasts need to be fed.
This, in my opinion, is perhaps the most critical hurdle Gailey has to clear this off-season as he prepares for his third (and perhaps final) year as the head coach here: figuring out how to legitimately use two backs in his offense. The formula from the past 28 games has worked for one runner, but now he's got two - and the Bills don't have enough talent elsewhere to ignore one of those talented players for lesser talents at other positions. The formula outlined above won't work anymore. Jackson and Spiller need to be central figures in Buffalo's offense, and Gailey needs to figure out how that will work.