Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey has tried all season to strike the right balance with running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.
It’s been largely overlooked given the disappointing 35-34 loss to the Tennessee Titans, but he may have found it Sunday.
Spiller and Jackson combined for 222 yards from scrimmage, on 35 total touches.
“It was good. I’m not sure if ideal ever hits. First of all, nothing is ideal unless you win. There were some opportunities we had to score more points so it wasn’t ideal,” Gailey said, “but for them to touch it 35 times between them and about four, five other times we tried to get the ball to Fred on some throws and did not connect on them. If we can let them touch it between 30 and 40 times a game, I think that’s pretty good for us.”
The Bills used Jackson and Spiller together on five of their 60 offensive snaps, including on their first touchdown, a 3-yard center screen to Jackson. On the play, Spiller drew linebacker Will Witherspoon out right into coverage, leaving the middle of the field – where Jackson got the ball and then walked into the end zone – wide open.
“Those guys are such great playmakers, and they’ve got different styles,” quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. “The biggest thing is to have them both healthy and to know going into the game that we’re going to be able to use them throughout the game. That’s something, unfortunately, with a few injuries early, we weren’t able to do. This last game, going into it knowing they were healthy, knowing they would be able to go for the duration of the game, that’s big for us to be able to game plan and put them in there and make teams defend it. They’re the two guys we need to get the ball. They’re going to be our workhorses. They’re going to be the guys that can make those big plays and move the chains. That’s real important to what we do.”
Jackson had his best game of the season, finishing with nine carries for 71 yards (7.9 yards per rush) and eight receptions for 49 yards and a touchdown. He played for the second straight week without the brace he wore for two games after coming back from the sprained LCL in his left knee that forced him to miss two weeks.
“I haven’t felt as well as I did [Sunday] in a long time. I was able to go out and make a few plays, but didn’t make enough,” he said. “We still got the loss. I did feel good and hopefully I can go out and continue to play well.
Jackson said he had no regrets about coming back from his injury when he did.
“I don’t think I came back early, I think I’m just starting to feel better,” he said. “I’m not in the knee brace, which was designed to be restrictive. ... I came [back] when I thought I had the ability to play – and I was able to make some plays then – I just feel better now.”
More than half of Fitzpatrick’s completions (14 of 27) and almost half of his attempts (17 of 35) went to or were intended for his running backs.
“That’s what we want to get done. We feel like I can make plays and he can make plays,” Jackson said. “For us both to be out there making plays and putting us in a position to get some points and have a productive day for our offense is definitely what we want to do, even get better at. It’s something we’ll continue to work on.”
Spiller has also played through a shoulder injury. While it hasn’t caused him to miss any games, the Bills have been careful about his work load. He finished Sunday with 18 touches – 12 carries for 70 yards and six receptions for another 32.
Spiller, who’s on pace for his first career 1,000-yard season, leads the team with 593 rushing yards. His 7.3 yards per rush is 1.5 yards better than the next closest running back in that category – San Francisco’s Frank Gore at 5.8 per rush.
Spiller, though, was not on the field for the Bills’ final possession, a curious move for a player who has proven to be the team’s best playmaker through the first seven weeks.
The Bills filled the last available spot on their practice squad Tuesday by signing offensive lineman Keith Williams.
The 6-foot-5, 330-pound Williams is no stranger to the Buffalo offense, having spent 13 weeks last season on the practice squad and the entire 2012 offseason with the team. Williams was among the final roster cuts at the end of the preseason.
Williams, a former sixth-round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2011, played in all four preseason games for Buffalo this summer, mostly at right guard.
The Bills had an opening on the squad after promoting center David Snow to the 53-man roster late last week.