The Buffalo Bills have been doing everything right this offseason. Actually, they have been laying the foundation the past few years. It’s just really coming together now. Every move they’ve made has had a purpose to it. They’ve built up a formidable defensive front that some would say was inspired by the Giants’ blueprint for defeating Buffalo’s divisional foe, the New England Patriots. They selected Stephon Gilmore in the top 10 picks with the purpose of stopping the mismatches of the new age tight ends, mainly that of the Patriots.
Buffalo understands that the clearest path to continued playoff success is through dominance of the division. For obvious reasons the Bills have concentrated a lot of their efforts on matching up with the Patriots but they’ve planned for the ground and pound attack of the Jets as well. The same defensive front that creates havoc through the pass rush also has the ability to stuff the run. Buffalo added two young linebackers in Tank Carder and Nigel Bradham that covered a lot of territory and made a ton of tackles in college.
Bradham will provide depth before being able to display his abilities but if Tank can stay healthy, Buffalo will get an immediate return on this investment. As you can see, the Bills have game planned for their two divisional foes. It feels like I’m forgetting someone…oh, the Miami Dolphins. Miami was polite enough to help Buffalo by game planning against themselves. Thanks to the southern hospitality of Miami and their decision to trade away their main receiving threat for a can of beans and a lifetime supply of mint flavored dental floss, the Bills get two extra bye weeks in 2012.
On the offensive side of the ball Buffalo looked like geniuses. They made a mistake a few years back by getting rid of Jason Peters. I’ve said since January that Cordy Glenn was the second best left tackle in this year’s draft class and would be a perfect fit in Buffalo as Peters’ replacement. Many felt that Glenn would be best utilized on the interior of the offensive line due to his 350 pound frame and questioned his footwork on the edge. The same questions were raised about Jason Peters when he came out of college and it led to him going undrafted. The similar concerns of Glenn led to him surprisingly sliding to the second round and Buffalo being smart enough to select the day two steal. The addition of Glenn to the offensive line and adding Zebrie Sanders for depth behind last year’s selection of Chris Hairston has incredibly strengthened the Buffalo attack. I feel that Hairston can start on the right side and Sanders can be groomed as a swing tackle. Eric Pears could provide depth.
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Ryan Fitzpatrick is the starting quarterback but he’s more of a game manager. He does what the offense asks of him. He plays within the offense and that’s what Buffalo needs. I love the move to bring Vince Young in. Young won’t get the chance to start unless Fitzpatrick just really takes a step back. If Young is needed though, he will thrive in this offense. While at Tennessee, Chris Johnson averaged roughly 30 more yards per carry with Young as the starting quarterback. The Buffalo backs could benefit from his mobility as well. The common opinion is that if Young couldn’t cut it in Philly last year, he won’t ever be more than a career backup. It was a lockout shortened season, the situation surrounding the “Dream Team” was a mad house, and he wasn’t a good fit for the way the Eagles used him at quarterback. He’s a natural for the quick release, high percentage passing, and heavy rush attack offense that the Bills used to help Fitzpatrick thrive last year.
Buffalo doesn’t have a lot of household names at wide receiver after Stevie Johnson but they have several promising talents. I honestly thought they were going to draft a tight end but I like the move to pickup Dorin Dickerson. Dickerson is a match up nightmare for defenses, if he’s used right. He will be an H-Back that can open holes and sneak out of the backfield in routes, especially in the red zone.
Now, let’s get to the heart of the offense. This is a team that feeds off the running game. While the running game only ranked 13th last season in the NFL and the passing attack came in at 15, it was the effectiveness of the running backs that led to the offensive unit flowing as a whole. Fred Jackson was an animal last season, especially through the first 6 games in which he racked up 6 touchdowns. Over the next four games he was still producing even though Fitzpatrick began struggling severely. He was placed on injured reserve after breaking a bone in his right leg during the Miami game. When Jackson returns this year he will be 31 years old and coming off that broken bone in his leg. He was such an integral part of the offense that Buffalo has to protect him and try to lengthen his career.
After Jackson went down the questions were all aimed at CJ Spiller. Ever since being selected 9th overall, many have wondered if he could rush between the tackles in the NFL and if he would be any more than a 3rd down back. Spiller answered those questions last year. He struggled in his first start but from December through the end of the year he silenced his critics.
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There are a few things that jump off the page when you look at his numbers from over the last month of the 2011 season. The main thing for me is the fact that he plays a lot better at home than on the road. I would increase his workload for his games in Buffalo and keep Jackson fresh for the road games. Over the course of the season it will keep both backs rejuvenated. Through these five games you can also see what Spiller did well in college and why the Bills selected him in the top ten picks. When he gets more touches, he becomes more comfortable and it’s just a matter of time before he breaks a begin gainer. CJ had a touch go for more than 15 yards in each one of these games. In home games he had a rush for 24 yards or more in each game. Spiller also had 5 total touchdowns in the last month of the season. This is only 1 less than what Jackson put up in the first 10 games of the year.
Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller both want to be on the field as much as possible. Though he won’t see it that way, it’s in Jackson’s best interest to get to more of an even split of the reps. Regardless of if he wants to or not, the Bills have to reduce Fred’s role when he comes back and allow Spiller to get into rhythm to where he can continue to have those big home run type of plays. The days of Jackson getting 30 touches and Spiller getting 5 are dead. They need to go to a 50/50 or 60/40 split depending on venue. Spiller averaged 7.2 yards per carry at home but only 3.4 on the road. Fred Jackson averaged 5.2 at home and an impressive 5.9 on the road. The atmosphere doesn’t matter to Jackson, he can thrive in any environment but for whatever reason, Spiller hasn’t adjusted to facing opponents on the road.
These carries can still be distributed depending on down and distance and location on the field. Despite what some may say, Spiller doesn’t have any trouble running between the tackles, as he averaged 5.8 ypc running up the middle of the line. But, Jackson plays at his best when his back is against the wall. He can move the chains when the Bills are on their own side of the field. Spiller loves the smell of the blood in the water and thrives when Buffalo crosses midfield. It’s not a mathematical equation, it’s only football, so this isn’t exact but it gives you an idea of how I would distribute the football.
In the eight home games I would try to get CJ as close to 20 touches (rush / receptions) and Jackson 15 touches (rush / receptions) as possible. In the eight road games I would switch their roles. Now, common sense does have to be sprinkled in. If one player is having an insane game then you stick with the hot hand. The touches will also be influenced by field position, down and distance, the score, and many other variables. The key is to keep Fred fresh and allow Spiller to make a splash. If they can keep these two backs healthy and positive the whole team will be better off as it will open the passing game up and keep the defense rested.