Things are not generally going well for the 3-4 Buffalo Bills at the moment, with fan angst reaching new heights within the context of the Chan Gailey era. We hope that you can handle a little positivity about the Bills' head coach, because despite everything going wrong with the team, he's been able to accomplish one thing that we've been touting as one of his top priorities since January: namely, getting two great running backs to operate at peak efficiency within his offense.
Over the last two games - a win over Arizona and a loss to Tennessee - Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller have become the overwhelming focal point of Gailey's offense. Combined, the two backs have touched the ball 72 times for 415 total yards from scrimmage in those two games (they've scored three touchdowns as well). The uptick in production between two excellent (and healthy) backs has made life easier for everyone on offense, and Gailey has been able to get a remarkable level of production out of the duo despite having never done so before.
After Jackson became the feature back following the trade of Marshawn Lynch in 2010, he spent the remainder of that season - plus a large portion of the outset of the 2011 season, before he landed on IR - as the feature back, with Spiller playing a bit role as he struggled to assimilate to the NFL. Jackson was highly productive, of course, but as a duo, their numbers were not much better thanks to the smaller second role. That trend continued when Jackson got hurt, Spiller broke out and Tashard Choice assumed Spiller's small second fiddle role.
Prior to Spiller's big opportunity in 2011, he and Jackson (mostly Jackson) combined for 25 touches and 136 scrimmage yards per game. The goal for Gailey, as we pointed out in May, was to preserve as much production as possible from the average stat line of both backs when they were operating at peak efficiency.
That was a lofty goal to set forth, and honestly, we didn't foresee Gailey being able to do it. When Jackson was the feature back last season, he averaged 22 touches for 146 yards per game. When Spiller was the feature back last season, he averaged 18 touches for 105 yards per conference. Quite literally, we were setting the expectation that Gailey would be able to combine those efforts and get 40 touches for 251 yards from Jackson and Spiller in one football game. It was, frankly, a pretty unreasonable expectation. Who puts pressure on a coach to get feature-back stats from two runners every week?
He did it anyway - or, at least, he's done it in the last two games, when Jackson and Spiller averaged 36 touches and 207 yards per game. The head coach, as maligned as he is in virtually every other area, has managed to jam two feature backs into his offense, combine their feature back stat lines into one ridiculous per-game average goal, and then get the duo to almost 90 percent of that very ambitious expectation. The results have been excellent.
Gailey himself told reporters on Monday that moving forward, the goal remains to get his two runners a high volume of touches and go from there.
"If we can let them touch it between 30 and 40 times a game, I think that is pretty good for us," Gailey said.
Gailey has a lot on his plate at the moment trying to create more consistency on a young football team - not to mention whipping his horrendous defense into shape over the bye week. Now that he's solved the issue of getting two feature backs producing in his offense, keeping them productive will remain his top priority on offense.
Here are more stats for those of you that are chart-inclined. The first row ("Games 5-22") details the Jackson/Spiller combined average stat line when Jackson was the feature back and Spiller was barely involved in the offense. The second row ("Feature Combined") took the 2011 averages of Jackson from Weeks 1-10, when he was the full-time feature back, and combined them with the 2011 per-game averages of Spiller from Weeks 12-17, when he was the feature back. (That created the lofty expectation we discussed above.) The last row ("Cardinals/Titans") is the duo's combined per-game average over the last two weeks.