Whenever Bills Head Coach Chan Gailey is asked about the rotation at running back, he always talks about how important it is to have two backs these days and how he doesn’t want to wear one guy out with too much work.
That was not a problem during the Bills 21-9 loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday. In fact, Gailey didn’t wear out either back as C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson had very limited roles. Rather odd when you take into account the Bills were the fourth best running team in the NFL going into the contest.
Just add this to the list of questionable decisions from Gailey. It’s a list that is becoming quite long in Gailey’s third season on the job.
Of the many statistics I looked at in the moments following the end of the 27th loss in Gailey’s 40 games as Bills Head Coach, here is the most alarming one: The last time a Bills running back got a carry came with 8:23 left in the third quarter.
If the Bills were getting blown out you might say Gailey had to give up on the run and go solely with the passing game. The score was 14-6 when Spiller ran for six yards to the Houston 21 yard line. On the next play(third and two), Stevie Johnson dropped what would have been a first down pass and the Bills settled for a Rian Lindell field goal.
The Bills would run 17 plays on offense over the remaining quarter and a half and all 17 were called as pass plays.
Of the 27 plays run by the Bills in the second half(it was 7-6 Houston at halftime), 24 were called as pass plays and three were runs by a back. Spiller, who entered the game leading the league with a 7.3 yards per carry average, had a grand total of two carries in that second half and just six for the entire game.
How is that possible? How can the most electric player on offense and a back who is in the top five in rushing yards going back to week thirteen last season, be handed the ball a mere six times?
Same story for Fred Jackson who also rushed a total of six times. The fourth best running team in the NFL took its top two backs and gave them a combined 12 carries in a game where their deficit was never larger than 12 points.
After the game both Gailey and Ryan Fitzpatrick essentially said the Texans were doing things designed to take away the running game so the Bills passed the ball instead.
What happened to the whole idea of making a team react to what you do? Why take the strength of your offense and basically concede victory to the other team in that portion of the matchup? How about the whole “imposing your will on someone” speech that we hear from coaches and players?
Gailey said the Texans had “seven big guys in the box”(base defense as opposed to nickel or dime) versus the three receiver sets so the Bills opted to throw the ball to get them out of it.
How about trying some more “run friendly” personnel groupings like using the fullback that is on the roster or going with more two tight end sets in an effort to get more big guys of your own in the box although I thought one of the benefits of spreading the field on offense was having more room to run.
Not running the ball enough wasn’t the only part of Gailey’s day to second guess. The red zone play calling was curious as well.
The Bills had three possessions that advanced inside the Texans twenty yard line and they ran a total of nine plays in the red zone. Not once did Buffalo attempt a pass into the end zone.
One of those red zone possessions came just before half time and ended up with a Lindell field goal to make it 7-6. The Bills had called time out with nine seconds left and had a second down coming up at the Houston twenty yard line.
Why not take a crack at the end zone there? If nothing is there, throw it out of the end zone and you still have time for the field goal attempt. There is risk involved since the Bills were out of time outs and a sack(the Bills gave up a sack on the previous play) would have meant the clock would run out and they’d get no points but what have you got to lose?
The same can be said for the decision to kick a field goal when the Bills faced a fourth and two at the Houston four yard line earlier in the half. Just go for it and show some aggressiveness rather than take the safe, conservative route.
It wasted what was a better day for the defense. A defense that gives up an average of 32 points a game held Houston to 21 points. The Bills gave up 118 yards rushing, 58 below their season average and they held the Texans to a 36% conversion rate on third down, 11 points below the season average.
Another game and another frustrating Bills loss in yet another frustrating Bills season. Here’s hoping the NHL lockout is settled very soon!