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Why won't Bills use Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller together?

By Tim Graham

For at least one week, Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey shouldn't face questions about how little he used high-wattage running back C.J. Spiller.

Fred Jackson won't play Thursday night against the Miami Dolphins, leaving Spiller as the only go-to guy in the backfield.

For the bajillionth time, Gailey on Monday had to defend his muted usage of Spiller, who's averaging an NFL-best 7.3 yards a carry.

I don't have a problem with how Gailey mixed the touches between Jackson and Spiller in Sunday's 37-31 loss to the New England Patriots. The plan clearly worked. Jackson ran 16 times for 80 yards and two touchdowns and caught four passes for 35 yards. Spiller ran nine times for 70 yards and added four catches for 61 yards.

Spiller and Jackson combined for 51 percent of Buffalo's season-high 481 yards in a game. No problem there.

But for the second straight week, when the Bills were in a must-score situation in the fourth quarter, Spiller was standing on the sidelines.

Why must this be an either-or scenario between Jackson and Spiller? Why can't Gailey find a way to put his best two offensive players on the field at the same time when the game is on the line?

There is an obvious benefit to scaring a defense simply by putting Spiller on the field -- in the backfield, in the slot, split wide, wherever -- in critical moments.

Yet Jackson and Spiller have been on the field together a total of 10 times this season, based on Buffalo News figures. The Bills gained 44 yards on those plays -- six runs and four passes.

"We have a few plays from time to time that we do that," Gailey said Monday. "I used to be 'Let's have one guy and we'll just run him as many times as it takes.' When we had Emmitt [Smith] we did that. When we had [Jerome] Bettis we did that.

"But when you've got two guys that are great players, why not use them both? Then, if you design too much with them both in the game, what if we'd lost in the first quarter? You got a bunch of your game plan revolving around having both of them in the game at the same time. And you can only have so many plays in a game plan. So if you have a bunch of them that are that way, then all of a sudden we've lost that package. It doesn't make sense to do it that way.

"So I think we're better off, I think it's smarter to keep playing them both and to give them their chances to play. They're both great players. We try to become as diverse as we can possibly be to create problems for the defense."

Jackson and Spiller were in tandem three plays against the New York Jets on opening day, two plays against the Arizona Cardinals in Week Six, one play against the Tennessee Titans in Week Seven and two plays apiece the past two games.

Keep in mind Jackson missed two of the Bills' first nine games, and both he and Spiller were limited when they returned from injuries. But indications are that they would be used together rarely even if they hadn't gotten hurt. Over the past three games, with both of them healthy, they have been used simultaneously on five plays.

Because of the either-or mentality, Spiller was on the field for 34 plays against New England. He wasn't on the field for 40 plays. Rookie receiver T.J. Graham got 45 snaps Sunday, or 61 percent of the possible plays compared to Spiller's 46 percent.

Jackson played 42 snaps of Buffalo's 74 plays.

"If you can devise things that create problems for the defense without having to expose both of them, that's what you do," Gailey said.

In Houston, Spiller was on the field for 26 plays, off the field for 31 plays.

The Bills shouldn't back themselves into a Spiller-Jackson decision on any given possession or play. They must find ways to get their best players on the field together -- especially late and with the outcome hanging in the balance.

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham | [email protected]


Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan | [email protected]


Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski | [email protected]

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