When the Tennessee Titans defeated the Buffalo Bills 23-17 in Week 13 of the 2011 NFL regular season, running backs Chris Johnson and C.J. Spiller put on a show. Spiller enjoyed a break-out performance, of sorts, as the team's feature back that day, accumulating 83 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Johnson had the better day, however, scoring twice and gaining 153 yards on just 23 carries.
Buffalo and Tennessee will square off once again this weekend in Orchard Park - and with Spiller and Johnson both hot or heating up, plus the return of Fred Jackson (who did not play in last year's Titans game after landing on IR) and the inclusion of two of the worst run defenses in the league, the running game will again play a critically important role in determining a victor.
The Bills have the NFL's worst run defense right now, as they're giving up an astonishing 173.5 yards per game on the ground. That includes 740 yards (or 247 yards per game) in their last three games, one of which they somehow still won. Even though Johnson has struggled this season - he enters Week 7 averaging just 3.3 yards per carry, and the Titans have had issues getting their running game going at times as a result - he'll have his opportunities to pick up big yardage. He's played better of late, as well, ripping off 147 yards against Houston in Week 4 and 91 in last week's win over Pittsburgh.
You don't need us to remind you how good Spiller has been this season. Jackson seems to be improving following a knee injury and a slow start, as well; in last week's win over Arizona, the duo combined for 141 rushing yards on 28 attempts (that's over five yards per carry) with two touchdowns. (They added nine receptions for 52 yards, as well.) Going up against a Titans defense that ranks No. 24 against the run, surrendering 130 yards per game (they're also the league's worst scoring defense), again, there will be chances to do big things.
For two teams trying to scrap their way back into a very strange mid-season playoff positioning push, whichever team is able to gain an advantage in the run game on Sunday - on both sides of the ball - will have a huge leg up in gunning for a win. Last year, Tennessee had that advantage. Now that the Bills have two healthy backs, it's time to see if they can re-gain that advantage this season.