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Jackson steps into lead role

Posted Dec 1, 2009

They’ve been sharing the workload for the better part of the last two seasons. Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch have both factored heavily in Buffalo’s production on the ground since 2007. And it’s always been clear that Lynch was the feature back with Jackson serving in a complementary role. That dynamic however, took a noticeable shift in the opposite direction Sunday perhaps serving notice that Jackson is the team’s lead rusher.

Despite Buffalo’s offensive explosion on the scoreboard Sunday, long sustained drives are still not accomplished with regularity as third down conversions remain a stumbling block. The Bills ran only 57 offensive plays against the Dolphins, which is their average this season (57.5). Their opponents average a dozen more per game (69.5).

It’s been one of the main reasons Buffalo’s running backs haven’t been getting much more than 10 carries apiece. The offense hasn’t been on the field long enough. That’s why interim head coach Perry Fewell felt it necessary to give the lion’s share of the rushing load to one back on Sunday, and Jackson was his man.

“I made that decision during the course of the week just watching us practice, watching our tempo,” said Fewell. “And again gut instinct and knowing Fred has been very productive for us. It was just a gut feeling to help our football team.”

Jackson didn’t disappoint averaging almost five yards a carry with 73 yards on 15 rushes in the game including a pair of touchdown runs in the victory. It was the first time since Week 6 against the Jets that Jackson had 15 carries or more.

“I found out (Saturday) night and I just wanted to take advantage of the opportunity and I was definitely given my share of touches and I wanted to make as many plays as possible for this team,” said Jackson. “I felt like the more plays I can make the better it’s going to help our team to go out and get a win.”

Since Marshawn Lynch has returned from suspension in Week 4, the former first-round pick had been getting the majority of the work. Jackson at most would get one more carry than Lynch as was the case against Jacksonville and at Miami. The shoe was on the other foot Sunday and could stay that way moving forward, but Lynch isn't bothered if he has to take a back seat.

"If I can sit down and watch Fred do his thing then that's what I'm going to do," said Lynch. "As long as we continue to put wins up I'm satisfied."

"We feed off each other," said Jackson. "He was the first guy to come up and congratulate me and give me a big hug after the game. And likewise. If he goes out and has a game like that I’m going to give him a big hug and tell him great job."

Jackson has always been a proponent of giving the lead back, whether it was him or Lynch, more than 10 touches a game to allow him to get into a groove.

“Running backs need touches to get into a rhythm,” said Jackson. “Whenever you do that with myself or Marshawn it’s one of those things we feed off of, running against a defense and wearing them down. We were able to do that (Sunday). A large credit goes to our offensive line. They were opening some holes in there.”

Over his career when Jackson has been given more than 10 carries a game his production improves, and it’s no different this season. Jackson has averaged 3.5 yards per rush on carries one through five this season. On carries six through 10 he averages 4.5 yards rush. And on carries 11-15 he averages 4.9 yards per carry.

Jackson believes he’s able to more effectively outsmart defenders when he’s getting most of the work through the course of a game.

“It’s huge,” he said. “You have the opportunity to go out and set blocks up. You go out on the next series and they’re going to look for you to be doing something and you can do the opposite. Every running back feeds off of that.”

Unfortunately getting better as the game wears on has not been the case for Lynch this season, whose average drops from 3.7 to 2.7 to 2.5 over those three carry plateaus. It’s why Jackson is averaging a full yard more than Lynch per carry on the year (4.2 to 3.1).

The difference in production this season has been readily apparent, which is why most outside observers want to see even more of Jackson, who had 116 yards from scrimmage Sunday thanks in part to five receptions for 43 yards. Bills fans lining the tunnel entrance at the east end of stadium after Sunday's win were chanting, 'Fred-dy, Fred-dy, Fred-dy!'

“It’s greatly appreciated,” said Jackson of the support. “It’s one of those things you’ve established yourself as somebody that can go out and be a starter on a football team. As a player you appreciate that and you appreciate all the love you get from the fans.”

Even one of his newest teammates has developed a quick appreciation for Jackson’s game.

“Good back, real good back,” said guard Kendall Simmons. “I like how he runs. He sets blocks up for you and he runs hard, so to me when you have a guy like that all you want to do is keep fighting for him.”

While nothing is set in stone, Perry Fewell has been quick to reward production in his short time as interim head coach. In light of Jackson’s most recent performance it’s not unrealistic to think Jackson could be carrying the load heading into the final five games of the season.

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