Running on Empty

Last season, Marshawn Lynch was a dominant force on the ground. This season is a different story as the Bills have struggled mightily on the ground. BFR's Ian Smith takes a look at this problem that is hampering the team's production this season...

A cheetah sprinting at full speed can travel 30 yards in approximately one second. An elephant walking casually can cover 30 yards in approximately 15 seconds, and a snail can travel 30 yards in approximately 35 minutes.

But against the New York Jets on Sunday, the Buffalo Bills only managed to gain 30 running yards in 60 minutes of football.

In their 26-17 loss at Ralph Wilson Stadium, Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson combined for 31 yards on 16 carries, averaging less than two yards per rush. By the end of the third quarter, the Bills had lost all faith in the run.

In responding to his team's poor rushing performance, Coach Dick Jauron simply said, "We have to run the ball more effectively."

If there were an "Understatement of the Year Award" in the NFL, that one would certainly be a nominee.

Marshawn Lynch missed the entire second quarter with nausea, which gave the green light to the usually reliable backup Fred Jackson. However, as the feature back, Jackson simply could not deliver. In six carries, including one in the potent Wildcat formation, the Coe College graduate could only muster 15 yards.

And when Lynch returned in the second half, he did not fare any better. Carrying the ball four times for 10 yards, Lynch was quickly bottled up at the line of scrimmage before he could cut outside, a place where he is most dangerous.

Props must be given to the front seven of the Jets defense and especially nose tackle Kris Jenkins, who undeniably controlled the game from start to finish. The Bills offensive line could not give the running backs any time to make a play.

The lack of a running game placed the burden square on the shoulder pads of the shaky Trent Edwards, who could not produce either. The second-year quarterback responded by losing a fumble and throwing two interceptions, one of which was returned 92 yards for a touchdown.

Although it was a glaring stain of the Bills offense against the Jets, the running game has been poor all season. Through the first eight games, the Bills are ranked 26th in the NFL in rushing offense (93.8 yards per game), 20th in the league in total rushes (209), and 2nd worst in the AFC in yards per rush (3.6).

Both backs have significantly fallen from last year's production. Through the first eight games of his rookie season, Marshawn Lynch averaged 18.5 rush attempts and 67 yards per game. Averaging only 16.5 attempts and 58 yards per game in the first eight games this season, the franchise back has statistically digressed into mediocrity. The most yards Lynch has rushed for this year was 83 versus the Raiders in week three, and Oakland is currently the third-worst rush defense in the NFL.

Like Lynch, backup Fred Jackson has not played up to last year's standards. In the seven final games Jackson appeared in the 2007 season, he averaged eight carries for 42.7 yards per game. But this year, Jackson has an average of seven carries for 28 yards per-game.

The only positive element of the running game this season has been the scoring. In the red zone, Lynch has 17 attempts for 68 yards with 5 touchdowns, and the Bills are tied for ninth in the NFL with eight rushing touchdowns.

However, in order to score within the red zone, you have to get there first.

When a football team's top two running backs are only averaging 86 yards through the first half of the season, that team is bound to stumble. And stumble the Bills finally have. Losing their first two AFC East divisional games, the Bills must get back on track with a win in Foxboro versus the New England Patriots.

In order for the Bills to finish the season like they started, there needs to be a more run-focused offense, which controls the clock and takes the pressure off of sophomore Trent Edwards.

Otherwise, the Bills might need to sign a free agent halfback cheetah to get the run game going.


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