To win in the NFL, you must run and stop the run. It's a long-standing cliche in football analysis. The Buffalo Bills have also keyed on this idea during the 2010 off-season, and will need to improve in both rushing offense and defense if they want to increase their win total from a year ago.
In 2009, half of the teams in the top ten in rushing made the playoffs. Indianapolis dead last running the football, rushing for under 1,300 yards, but made it to the Super Bowl on the arm of Peyton Manning. On the other side of the ball, seven of the top ten rushing defenses made the playoffs. New Orleans was No. 20 in rushing yards allowed, but with their high-powered offense, many teams had to abandon the run early, which actually places them higher than they might otherwise deserve. The Jets, Bengals, and Ravens were the only teams on both top ten lists, and all made the playoffs. If you are good at both, you have a great shot of being an above-average team, but that doesn't mean that doing one or the other poorly will prevent you from winning.
Buffalo saw their two-headed rushing attack of Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson finish No. 16 in the league in rushing, amassing 1,867 yards. With a suspect offensive line that started the highest number of different starting combinations in the league, and began the season as the greenest offensive line in NFL history, that's a remarkable accomplishment. But it's also not good enough if the Bills are going to be a good team in 2010. The offensive line needs to improve. To improve the line, the Bills are counting on young veterans Andy Levitre, Eric Wood, Demetrius Bell and Jamon Meredith to develop from inexperienced to veteran quickly. The team added free agent Cornell Green as a stop-gap when Brad Butler unexpectedly retired. Buffalo also drafted Ed Wang in the fifth round, and Kyle Calloway in the seventh round, of April's draft.
I haven't even mentioned first-round pick C.J. Spiller yet. The Bills took the shifty running back in hopes of hitting a home run. Spiller adds that ability every time he touches the ball. His talent at eluding and out-running defenders is something the Bills' stable of running backs lacked. Spiller's addition gives the team three solid running backs for whoever wins the quarterback battle to hand off to.
Chan Gailey's teams have utilized the run often when he has called the plays. In 2008 with the Chiefs, Gailey's running backs rushed for 1,810 yards, led by Larry Johnson, and finished No. 16 in the league while playing from behind in most games. As Dallas' head coach in 1998 and 1999, the Cowboys finished both years with over 2,000 yards rushing and in the top six in the league. Going further back to his time in Pittsburgh as Bill Cowher's coordinator, the Steelers were second and first in 1996 and 1997 in rushing, respectively. Gailey is obviously committed to the run as a play caller, and hopefully will have games close enough where he can continue to utilize the running game.
The Bills weren't as good last year defending the run, giving up over 2,500 yards on the ground to rank No. 29 in the league. In an effort to change that statistic, Gailey and defensive coordinator George Edwards have switched to a 3-4 defense. With the help of GM Buddy Nix, the Bills have undergone a fairly significant overhaul in the front seven, bringing in LB Andra Davis, DE Dwan Edwards, and LB Reggie Torbor. In the draft, the team added second-round pick NT Torrell Troup and third-round DE Alex Carrington, as well as late round linebackers Arthur Moats and Danny Batten. Beefing up the front seven was obviously a priority for the new regime.
While this cliche may be overblown in predicting success, the Bills spent six of their nine draft picks on running and stopping the run, as well as adding all their free agents in these areas. Chan Gailey has shown he likes to run the ball when given the opportunity, as well. It appears as though the Bills are focusing on successfully running and stopping the run in 2010.