With New Additions, Buffalo's Backfield Should Continue Dominance
By Josh Schoch
There may not be a team in the NFL with more depth at the running back position than the Buffalo Bills. It is a bold statement to make, but there are very few other teams with four backs who deserve to be on the field. That depth is a great asset for the Bills to have, but it also means that the team has some serious decisions to make as to how to utilize each player.
In 2013, the Bills led the league with 546 rushing attempts, thanks to the heavy workloads of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. The team also finished second in rushing yards (2,307) behind the Philadelphia Eagles, averaging 144.2 yards per game. Buffalo figures to have a similarly dominant rushing attack in 2014, something that the team will rely on heavily.
Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has said that he wants the offense to get back to the up-tempo style it played when quarterback E.J. Manuel was healthy. The fast pace had opponents struggling to stop the run-heavy attack. If the Bills plan on running the ball even more than they did last year, the team's depth should come in handy.
It all starts with Spiller. Last season, the plan was to give him the ball "until he throws up." However, a high ankle sprain took away some of his burst, and he was not as productive as expected, reaching the end zone twice all season. Spiller made it clear that his ankle was holding him back all season, sapping his burst and cutting into his playing time. However, he told beat writer Chris Brown that he feels better now than he did all last season. If he plays like it, he should run for well over 1,000 yards this year.
Spiller's primary backup is still Jackson. The 33-year-old is coming off one of the best seasons of his career, finishing with a career-high nine rushing touchdowns. Jackson did not show many signs of his age last season. But while he played in all 16 games, he was listed on the injury report as probable in five games, according to KFFL. The Bills hope for him to continue his production as Spiller's backup.
There are two new additions to this year’s backfield who make it better than last year's. The team signed Anthony Dixon in March and traded for Bryce Brown during the 2014 NFL Draft, giving away a conditional pick in next year's draft.
Dixon will be an important player on the team this season because of his role as a power back. At 6-foot-1 and 233 pounds, Dixon is a big man. He is able to push through the pile even when the defense knows what is coming. He runs low to the ground and uses his strength. The Bills struggled in short yardage situations last year, partially because neither Spiller nor Jackson is considered a true bruiser. They ranked in the bottom half of the league in third- and fourth-and-one conversions and 29th in efficiency in goal-to-go situations. While the team certainly passed in more short yardage situations than advised, they showed a lack of trust in Spiller or Jackson to move the pile. Dixon is the type of back who can do that. We could also see him in two-back formations, as he played fullback for the San Francisco 49ers at times.
While Dixon's niche is that of a power back, Brown's most valuable attribute is his speed. After blazing a 4.32 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine coming out of college, he has shown that he knows how to use that speed in the next level. The 23-year-old has incredible burst and will be used as a speed back when Spiller needs a rest – which could be pretty often in the team's up-tempo offense. It's also important to keep in mind that Brown has a considerable size advantage over Spiller – an extra inch and 20 pounds – but he does not let that hurt his speed. And considering that he is three years younger than Spiller, the team's eventual plan may be for Brown to take over Spiller’s in a few years. However, for now, he will be a complementary back for the team.
With so much talent and different running styles in the backfield, it is going to be difficult for teams to prepare for Buffalo's ground game. Add in the fact that teams will have to respect the team's passing game and a bigger, more talented offensive line, this could be among the best rushing attacks in the league again during the 2014 NFL Season.