In his first career NFL start at running back, Buffalo's Fred Jackson more than held his own. The surprising former undrafted free agent out of Division III Coe College, and a member of Buffalo's practice squad last season, got the start in Washington after rookie Marshawn Lynch and veteran Anthony Thomas were both deactivated due to injury. Buffalo went into the game saying they would use both Jackson and rookie Dwayne Wright to fill the void, but Jackson's performance prevented that from happening.
How's this for a first-start stat line? 82 rushing yards on 16 carries (5.1 yard average), and 69 receiving yards on 4 catches. On this day, Jackson was Buffalo's leading rusher and receiver - and he did it all against the 9th-ranked defense in the NFL.
The Real Surprise
It was discussed pre-game all week: facing a defense coordinated by Gregg Williams, rookie QB Trent Edwards would be facing blitz pressure the entire game. And that was true - just as expected, Williams dialed up some exotic blitz packages and sent the house at Edwards on occasion.
Trent Edwards was not sacked yesterday. Why? Jackson was superb in blitz pickup.
Shouldn't that be the weak point of a first-year running back's game? Not in Jackson's case - he held his own, despite not being the biggest guy around (6'1", 215). The Bills didn't even get around to using the sturdier Wright in that scenario - in fact, Wright only logged two carries on the day. Jackson played the role of workhorse on a day he wasn't expected to - and that is opening up some interesting possibilities for this Bills offense.
In case you hadn't heard, Marshawn Lynch practiced at the end of last week - great news in his recovery process, as it seems likely that he could suit up for this weekend's important contest against the Miami Dolphins. Even if Lynch can go, he may not be able to handle a full workload. There is also the opinion that Lynch should never handle a full workload. With Jackson emerging yesterday, the question now becomes: does he have to?
Lynch and Jackson, despite the disparity in their status entering the league (no larger margin exists between Division I first-round pick and Division III undrafted), are cut from the same cloth. They are both sturdy backs who fight for every inch of real estate they can muster. They both have excellent hands out of the backfield, and hold their own in blitz pickup. More importantly, they've both proven to be catalysts for this Bills offense this season. Their playing styles are so similar that I'd venture so far as to say that if the duo were used in conjunction, Buffalo's offense would never miss a beat.
I'll even go further than that - using both Lynch and Jackson would increase Lynch's production. When you can increase the production of your best player, you do it. Simple. It will also help the development of Trent Edwards a lot, as he'd have two excellent runners and outlet receivers to take pressure off of him as he continues to learn how to read NFL defenses. It sounds nice, doesn't it? It would be - the two-back system works in the NFL (see: Dallas, Indy, New England, etc.), and it's something that Buffalo needs to explore.
Fred Jackson deserves more playing time. With the home stretch possibly allowing the Bills to make the playoffs, now is the perfect time to give it to him.