Jackson, Lynch ready to take next step

Buffalo has the backs to follow the path of Tennessee, New York and Carolina. Fred Jackson's breakout game last weekend further proved he's ready to be more than just a change-of-pace back. The Bills could boast a very dangerous 1-2 punch in '09, BFR's Tyler Dunne explains...

It's time the Buffalo Bills officially jumped aboard.

As a streaking Will Ferrell proclaimed in Old School, "Everybody's doing it!" And in the NFL, most teams are on the constant search for two running backs to share the load. The brute nature of the modern game has diminished the workhorse back, thus sparking the demand for two-headed monsters. Fred Jackson's coming out party at Denver further justified his worth.

He's not merely an occasional change-of-pace back. No, Jackson should no longer be a water-break opportunity for Lynch. He's an equal now --- as part of one of the NFL's most promising two-back attacks.

Jackson's slippery running style gave the Broncos fits in the 2nd half. He set the tone for Buffalo's offense, offering a healthy flair of speed compared to Lynch's brash between-the-tackles running. Marshawn Lynch showed a ton of grit in playing the first half with a bad shoulder. When the pain eventually took Lynch out of the game, Jackson seized the moment. The second-year pro from Coe College had 103 total yards on 13 touches, including a touchdown run and 65-yard catch up the right sideline --- where he appeared to be a more natural route runner than half of Buffalo's wide receivers.

And now the Bills --- in frantic panic mode for two months --- have one nugget of hope to carry into the off-season. Lynch and Jackson, both young and explosive, are the rocks of this offense. One's a bowling ball with quills (Lynch), the other has the stride and speed of a whitetail (Jackson). Together --- like Brandon Jacobs/Derrick Ward, Chris Johnson/LenDale White and DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart (ahem, all of which play for the three best teams in the NFL) --- Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson could form one of the league's best mash ‘n dash tandems.

Let's just hope the Bills realize and embrace this development. Because the bitter reality is that the coaching staff has treated Jackson like a forgotten third cousin at points this season.

Yet again, the importance of featuring not one, but two running backs in this league is screaming in the standings. The Tennessee Titans, New York Giants and Carolina Panthers have spearheaded the movement this year. All three teams lack quality passing games, but through the strength of we're-going-to-run-and-everybody-knows-it gameplans, they're a combined 36-9.

The prerequisite for success in this league is having two different flavors in the backfield.

--- That's why the Titans drafted Johnson 24th overall despite a glaring need at wide receiver (none had been drafted yet) and the fact that they already had drafted a running back in the second round of the previous two drafts. Jeff Fisher and company recognized that Johnson's pure speed (4.24 in the 40) harmonized perfectly with the bruising (though dimwitted) 240-pound White. Now the two have combined for 1,978 yards, 24 touchdowns and one Terrible Towel Stomping that will be regretted at a later date.

--- That's why the Panthers drafted Stewart despite early reports that his toe surgery could've threaten his rookie season entirely. Carolina realized the long-term potential of pairing Stewart with Williams. Through 15 games, Williams has 1,337 yards and 18 touchdowns and Stewart has 780 and nine.

--- That's why the Giants knocked off an unbeatable team in the Super Bowl last year… and are in the driver's seat to win it again.

These three teams' general managers, head coaches and play-callers center the entire fabric of their offenses around their complementary running backs.

Like Eli Manning, Jake Delhomme and Kerry Collins, Buffalo's Trent Edwards can be an efficient, low-risk, opportunistic quarterback. The Bills can follow this trend. The ammo's there. But you'd hardly realize it.

Many times this season, Turk Schonert has ignored Fred Jackson or misused the two backs' skill sets entirely.

It makes about as much sense as someone actually buying one of those ridiculous hybrid sleeve/blanket "Snuggies." Please people. Use your $19.95 elsewhere. While that line, "Blankets are OK, but they can slip and slide!" sure is convincing, please resist the urge.

Anyways. The Bills have the thunder and lightning in place to replicate the aforementioned duos. Russ Brandon doesn't need to invest a first-rounder to establish his two-back system as the Titans and Panthers did. Lynch and Jackson more than suffice. Unfortunately, they've been underused --- a big reason for Buffalo's crash-and-burn.

Jackson has received at least 10 carries only three times in 15 games. His 103 total carries rank 47th in the NFL, a notch behind Cincinnati's Chris Perry.

Worse than his actual consumption of attempts has been the sporadic stretches of time where Schonert has omitted Jackson entirely.

In Buffalo's dreadful scoreless first half against San Francisco, Jackson only received one carry. He rushed for five yards on a 1st and goal from the 7-yard line. Rather than feeding him again, Schonert opted for two passes, both fell incomplete and Rian Lindell missed the chip-shot field goal.

One week later in Toronto, Jackson was not fed once by ground and air. Even as the J.P. Losman-led unit sputtered in embarrassing succession, Schonert didn't give Jackson a crack at Miami's ‘D.'

Afterward, Jackson didn't pout, didn't sulk. Rather, he said he'll take the opportunities as they come. Next year, they better come more often then. Action Jackson is a weapon the Bills must nurture.

The bell-cow back is dying. Carries should follow a 60:40 ratio --- with leeway. Lean on the back that gets hot in a given game. No two games are exactly the same. Whereas Lynch excels against bigger fronts (like the Kris Jenkins-led Jets), Jackson is particularly elusive against undersized front fours.

The Titans, Giants and Panthers set a new standard this season. With equal distribution (if Lynch plays) Sunday against New England, the Bills could audition a new offensive approach for next season. And midseason collapses will be out of the question.

thdunne@gmail.com


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