Jackson's emergence bodes well for O (buffalobills.com)
Marshawn Lynch is used to the hype. As a former first-round pick and college star, Lynch - behind solid production in his first 15 NFL starts - has quickly become one of the league's brightest young stars.
Fred Jackson, on the other hand, is new to the hype. His unconventional route to the NFL (he's a former undrafted free agent from Division III Coe College who now, in his second full NFL season, is 27 years old) left him relatively anonymous entering 2008, despite several strong performances at the end of the 2007 season. "Experts" scoffed at the Buffalo Bills' "lack of depth" behind Lynch in the running game.
Wrong. Very wrong. Not only do the Bills have depth at running back, they have a dynamic and versatile rushing duo that deserves to be mentioned among the league's best running back tandems. In short, they both deserve hype.
The true meaning of "complement"
Despite being relatively inexperienced - each is only in his second NFL season, after all - Lynch and Jackson play the game like seasoned veterans. They're both exactly the type of running back that a rookie offensive coordinator (Turk Schonert) and a young quarterback (Trent Edwards) need - they're gritty, they're swift, and they move the chains.
Unlike most running tandems, however, Lynch ("Beast Mode", as he's affectionately referred to by Bills fans) and Jackson ("Action Jackson") actually complement each other perfectly - and they do it with remarkably similar styles. Lynch is the tougher back of the two, routinely seeking out contact and working harder than any back not named Marion Barber III for every inch he can gain. He's great in space, a good receiver and blocker, and is really a complete package. The trouble for opposing defenses is, so is Jackson. He doesn't seek out as much contact as Lynch, preferring a slithering style, but he's just as adept in blitz pickup, toting the rock, and possibly more adept as a receiver.
The two players have proven to be so valuable to Buffalo's offense that Schonert is now using both men on the field at the same time. Jackson caught a pass and ran for a first down from the fullback position, he lined up as one of the up backs in a wishbone formation, and he's been split out wide as a slot receiver (as has Lynch). The abilities of these two backs have diversified Buffalo's offense in a monumental way.
Results showing up on the field
We're starting to see the promise that we saw before the season manifesting itself on the field by these two backs. Combined, the two backs have carried the ball 53 times through two games; although they're averaging just under 3.5 yards per carry, they've been effective keeping drives alive for Edwards. Much of their low average can also be attributed to the fact that the Bills, in their first two games, have faced particularly stingy run defenses in Seattle and Jacksonville.
The duo also combined for 11 catches and 109 yards through two games. When a team is getting nearly 10 yards per reception from its running backs, it opens things up for the receivers and tight ends - and Edwards has been finding them early, especially Lee Evans. There's no way Evans would be averaging over 22 yards per reception right now without the backs' contributions in the passing game.
Two backs, two games, 64 touches. That quite literally makes this duo the heartbeat of Buffalo's offense - and considering the fact that the shared work load is keeping both backs healthy and fresh, that heartbeat should only strengthen as the season wears on. So believe the hype - Beast Mode and Action Jackson, like the Bills team they play for, are quite legitimate, and they'll keep proving it on Sundays.