Turk Schonert said way back in training camp that Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch would be a big part of the team's passing game because they can get yards after the catch and make people miss. After 11 games the two backs have proven that Buffalo's offensive coordinator wasn't blowing smoke.
Both Lynch and Jackson are known for making yards after contact in the run game, but out in space they've also done quite well in gaining yards after the catch. According to STATSPASS, Jackson and Lynch each rank in the top 10 in yards after the catch among running backs. Jackson (9.3) currently ranks seventh and Lynch (8.8) ranks ninth in average yards gained after a reception.
"It's something we pride ourselves on," said Jackson. "We don't want to go down with the first guy."
"They are both very athletic, as we've all seen," said head coach Dick Jauron. "They do run really good routes and they do catch the ball well most of the time. Once they get it in their hands, they are formidable runners once they get down the field. It's a weapon we planned on using, that we're using, that we're learning how to use more and more and more effectively. We feel very fortunate to have the two of them."
Lynch is tops in the AFC in receptions among running backs with 42, which is also tied for the team lead with Bills top wideout Lee Evans. The Bills feature back is also third in the league in yards after the catch with 371 according to STATSPASS. Only Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew and former League MVP LaDainian Tomlinson have more.
Jackson is also a very respectable fourth in the AFC among running backs in receiving average (8.4) tied with Tomlinson.
Combined Lynch and Jackson lead the NFL in receptions for a running back duo with 67.
"You have your goals and it was something we definitely wanted to do," said Jackson. "But to see it unfolding in front of you is a thing of beauty. We are proud that we're able to catch out of the backfield and be able to line up and run some routes. We just want to try to keep it going."
"I knew talent-wise they both could do it," said Trent Edwards. "To have both of those guys to throw to out of the backfield, I know they don't drop a lot of balls, they run great routes. I sit there and watch them make these professional athletes look bad sometimes and I'm very thankful that I don't have to play linebacker or have to tackle them. They create a lot of good mismatches for me."
Lost in all the receiving stats is the fact that Buffalo's backs have recently been more productive on the rushing end of the ledger as well. There's no question that 100-yard rushing days have been hard to come by for Lynch, who has just one on the season, but he is still the sixth leading rusher in the AFC.
"He's having a very effective year," said Schonert. "The yards after contact, they don't measure that. But he competes, he competes his butt off and you see it out there. It's infectious. Our guys see it and they want to block longer. Our backs make guys miss and break tackles."
Jackson meanwhile has made the most of his opportunities on the ground. Despite getting less than half the carries of Lynch this season, he's tied for fifth in the AFC in average yards per carry (4.4).
Schonert relishes the fact that his play calling does not have to change when Jackson is in the lineup to give Lynch a break.
"We don't miss a beat," said Schonert. "We can do the same style of offense. We can put him out in a formation and throw it. We can put him in the backfield and give it to him. We can put him in the backfield and he's a protector because he can pass protect like Marshawn as well."
The effectiveness of the Lynch-Jackson combination is undeniable, but at the root of what makes them so productive is the self-motivated nature that both backs possess and the back and forth competition that goes on between them.
"It happens during the game," said Jackson. "He'll make a nice run and I'll tell him, 'I saw that run, now let me go get one for you.' Or he'll tell me, 'I know you saw me just work over number 20.' And I'll tell him I'll match it and it just goes back and forth and is fun. It's just being the natural competitors that we are and when we turn on the film we'll see who has the most broken tackles."
"They feed off each other," said center Duke Preston. "They're competitors and they're almost competing with each other in a way for the benefit of the team. So that motivates us up front to get those guys going even more and it's good to see them have a good game. Our one-two punch has got to be up there with anyone else in the league. I don't know if anyone else has two backs like us."