In 2011 Chan Gailey himself called his offense a 'pass to set up the run' attack. Three and four-wide formations were commonplace. Ryan Fitzpatrick finished sixth in the league in pass attempts with 569. Though the NFL is still very much a pass first league, the Bills seem to be taking a more hardened approach to establishing their run game in 2012. But don't try to attach an identity to Buffalo's offense, unless the word you choose to use is versatile.
"Chan is a creative offensive coach and we like it. We're not predictable and that's how you create a good offense," said Eric Wood. "Some weeks we're going to run the ball a ton, some weeks we're going to pass the ball a ton. A lot of it has to do with what the defense is going to give us. I don't think you can stamp this offense and say we're a particular type of offense. We're just trying to be whatever is going to work."
Last week against the Chiefs, Buffalo ran the football on each of their first five first downs in the game, a stark change from what the Bills leaned on in the past. Ryan Fitzpatrick is quick to remind that the Bills ran the ball well with Fred Jackson last season even when throwing the ball seemed more prevalent in the offense.
"If you look at how we started last year we had a few big games in the pass game, but a lot of that was coming from behind," said Fitzpatrick. "If you look at the stats that Fred put up he was up there among league leaders in terms of rushing yards and we did a good job with that stuff last year."
Yes, Jackson was extraordinarily successful running the football last season, and a lot of the time it was out of three and four-wide sets, similar to what was successful early against the Chiefs with C.J. Spiller.
"We like to get people in situations they don't like to be in," said Scott Chandler. "When they're in nickel and dime we're going to run it at them. When DBs are playing linebacker, it's not their natural position so they're having a tough time making those tackles."
Chan Gailey has said more than once he'd prefer to run the ball all day every week, but he understands that's not realistic.
"It's a tough game for tough people and I think that if you run the football you can impose your will on other teams," he said. "The game's different than it was 10-15, 20 years ago. So you change, you change with the times and you adjust, but you do what you have to do."
What benefits the Bills is for the first time in a long time they enter their third season in the same offensive system. Buffalo hasn't done that since the 2000 campaign as the offensive coordinator position resembled a game of musical chairs until Chan Gailey walked in the door.
That continuity has allowed the offense to evolve. It's also enabled the offensive staff to diversify roles for their players, as most of them have been on the roster the past three seasons.
"I think guys now understand what we're trying to do as an offense and have a better understanding of what this offense can do," said Spiller, who has lined up at tailback and receiver. "That's what's enabled us to put guys in different situations and move guys around because everybody knows what everyone else is doing and once you do that I think you can become a deadly offense. Just knowing what you're doing, that kind of limits you. I think a lot of guys can play multiple positions so that enables Coach Gailey to open the playbook up."
Gailey points to the continuity they've established on the offensive line as one of the main reasons for the offense's versatility.
They understand when you make little changes to plays, they understand what you're trying to get done and that's huge," he said. "We've been fortunate to be able to have some success early but early success, as we found out last year, doesn't mean anything. You've got to sustain it."
Buffalo's sideline boss was quick to mention that in this day in age of NFL defenses if they want to take away an element of your offense they can. That's why even though the Bills run game is off to a roaring start, his approach is still an offensive attack that's multi-dimensional.
"Chan has shown he can keep defenses off balance and attack the things that they're giving us, rather than always going into a game and not being able to adjust," said Fitzpatrick. "We're going to stick with what's working and if it's not working we've got plenty of ways and plenty of things in our plan to adjust and go a different route."
"You've got to be balanced," said Gailey. "You've got to be good enough to handle whatever they throw at you. You've got to change. If the run is working, guess what? We're going to run. If the run is not working or we think that the matchups are not good, we'll throw the football. We have confidence in both areas. We've won doing both things."