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Bills' running backs came up a touch short of goals

This is the third part of a series assessing the Bills' 2010 season. Today's installment deals with running backs.

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Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson gave the team good production when he touched the ball in 2010.

It would have been better if he had touched it more.

Jackson was underutilized in the first four games due to the presence of Marshawn Lynch. More importantly, the Bills' running game was underutilized because the offense didn't have the ball enough.

The Bills ranked 18th in the NFL in rushing yards with an average of 107.5 a game. They ranked 25th in rushing attempts, with only 25 a game.

Buffalo's running game likely would have produced more if the defense had done a better job of limiting yards and points and helping the offense get more chances to get on the field. The running backs also were hurt by the fact the Bills rarely were protecting a lead in the second half, when offenses rely on the running game to burn up clock.

Those factors notwithstanding, the running game still could have been better. Rookie C.J. Spiller never got rolling and finished with only 283 rushing yards. The Bills didn't get the kind of road-grading play a potent running team needs out of the right tackle position.

Nevertheless, Jackson remains optimistic about where the offense is headed.

"Outside of the last two weeks, we played a lot of great football this year," Jackson said. "With the three overtime losses and even the six-point losses here and there -- I think there's a lot that we can take from this year. I think there's a lot of people in this locker room that feel this way and feel like we're going in the right direction. We've just got to go back and clean up a bunch of little things. Hopefully we can start out a lot faster than we did this year. I think we'll have a chance of improving our record a lot."

*Positives: Jackson's role in the pass offense is significant. The Bills were able to spread defenses with four receivers because of Ryan Fitzpatrick's ability to read schemes and Jackson's great ability to pick up blitzes. That's why Jackson's catches were down from 46 to 31, but that's not a bad thing because it helped the downfield passing. The Bills were 13th in rushing average, at 4.3 a carry. Jackson is good at turning 1-yard gains into 4-yard gains. He was very good on bend-back type runs. Lee Evans and Donald Jones were the best blocking receivers. Fullback Corey McIntyre is an able lead blocker.

*Negatives: The Bills ranked last in the NFL in rushing touchdowns, with six. Buffalo needs more big-play rushes out of its backfield. Jackson had 18 runs of 10 or more yards. Fourteen NFL backs had 28 or more. One would think Spiller can help in this department. Spiller played about a quarter of the offensive snaps. He had 98 touches and produced only two plays of 20 or more yards. Gailey and the coaches need to figure out how to get Spiller in space more effectively. Given his size, will Spiller ever be able to pass protect like Jackson? If the Bills could leave their offensive tackles on an island a little more often, it would create more opportunity for big plays. The Bills were 12 of 20 (60 percent) on runs of third and 1 or 2, a bit below the league average (65 percent). The Bills ran the ball 42 percent of their plays, which ranked 20th. Look for that to go up if the Bills get better and play more with a lead.

*Outlook: Developing Spiller will be a big priority. No. 3 back Quinton Ganther is a free agent. Ideally the Bills would have a big pounder as No. 3 to complement Jackson and Spiller. That could be a target in the later rounds of the draft. Jehuu Caulcrick, a 260-pounder, is under contract for 2011.

Next: Offensive line.

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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