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Revitalizing ground game critical for stretch run

Posted Nov 26, 2013

Buffalo's ground game has been a top 10 unit all season long, but their recent production has slipped a bit.

With EJ Manuel’s progress on the upswing Buffalo’s passing game has seen an uptick in production, but at its core head coach Doug Marrone still wants the Bills offense to be an attack that can rely on its running game. That has not been the case for most of the past five weeks, but the Bills’ backs and offensive line intend to up their output knowing its importance for a legitimate stretch run.

Buffalo’s run game has ranked in the top 10 all season long, but in four of their last five games the production has not eclipsed the 100-yard mark. The only outing in that stretch that did was their 241-yard outburst against Kansas City.

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Their totals against Miami (90), New Orleans (88), Pittsburgh (95) and the Jets (68) have been instrumental in seeing Buffalo’s rushing yards per game average drop 11 yards in the last three weeks.

“We just have to go back and look at the beginning of the season and see what we were doing great and what was really working well for us and just get back to that,” said C.J. Spiller. “At the end of the day the running game is our bread and butter here, especially in the conditions that we play in here. You have to be able to run the ball.”

Spiller, who has averaged better than four yards a carry in just three of the 10 games in which he has appeared, is hoping that the bye week will serve the left ankle that has bothered him for much of the season well.

“It’s definitely getting better,” said Spiller. “It’s going to feel good not to have to play with the braces on for the remainder of the season.”

Encouraging as that might be, fixing the run game goes a bit deeper than Spiller’s health.

“We had a meeting as running backs and said that we have to get this thing fixed,” said Fred Jackson on the heels of the team’s 68-yard rushing performance against the Jets. “The offensive line feels the same way. We can’t go out and put a performance like that in week in and week out and expect the other guys to carry us throwing the ball. It’s something that we’re all very mindful of and want to get fixed and have to get fixed.”

Buffalo’s deep passing game has served as a strong deterrent of late in keeping an opposing safety out of the box to help in coverage, which can be a benefit to the Bills ground game leaving just seven defenders in the run front. Jackson and Spiller however, are not convinced that it will change the approach of future opponents.

“Teams are still going to stack (the box) without a doubt,” said Spiller. “When you’ve got two good running backs you’d be crazy not to (stack the box) because if you don’t we’ll just chew you up.”

At the same time Jackson believes there has to be better teamwork between the backs and the offensive line in recognizing the looks and alignments of the opposing defensive fronts. In the end Buffalo’s veteran back believes the onus is on him and Spiller to win their one-on-one matchups with the safety, which has not happened as much this season as it has in the recent past.

“It really falls on us as running backs where we have to beat that safety knowing the safety is going to be in the box unblocked. We have to challenge that safety all game long,” he said.

Spiller agrees with Jackson’s assessment, and knows if he and his backfield mate can re-establish their elusiveness it will benefit every aspect of their offense.

“You have to be able to run the ball. We have a young quarterback so we want to try to take as much pressure off him as we can,” Spiller said. “We know that other teams are going to continue to look at the game plan that the Jets did and try to emulate that and we have to try to do a better job of executing and we will. I have all the faith in the world in the guys up front.”

Buffalo’s run game could get just the respite it’s looking for in an opponent Sunday. The Bills will be facing a Falcons defense that ranks 28th in the league against the run. Atlanta is surrendering just over 130 rushing yards per game.