Rebuilding begins with Jackson

Fred Jackson (Getty Images)

With one 212-yard exclamation point, there's no more debating. Fred Jackson is the player the Buffalo Bills must rebuild around. With an improved offensive line, better quarterback play and a new play-caller, Jackson will reach new heights next year, says BFR's Tyler Dunne...

This was not a statement game. More like a varsity team pounding its JV understudies in practice.

As a team, the Buffalo Bills cannot read too much into snowplowing Indianapolis' backups, 30-7. After all, this Bills team itself will deconstruct and reconstruct over the coming months.

But for Fred Jackson? Sunday was as statement as it gets. A 140-decibel wakeup call to the front office. Give him an offensive line, an above-average quarterback and a committed play-caller and Jackson could reach elite status. Enough with the "complementary" nonsense.

Fred Jackson is the torch-bearer of this offense, a reason to think things may get better.

Against the Colts' backups, Buffalo's offensive line finally faced an opponent of equal talent. Jackson wasn't crowded by defenders the instant he touched the ball. He finally had a split-second to react. You know, like most backs. His 212 yards on 33 carries are no aberration.

He ran through, spun off and cut past Indy defenders all day. Jackson's running style screams O.J. Simpson.

And for once, the Bills stopped force-feeding Marshawn Lynch. Stopped coddling their former first-round pick. All day, "Beast Mode" stayed in "OFF" mode. On the bench. Where he belongs.

Make no mistake. Buffalo can build around Jackson. All of Buddy Nix's offseason moves on offense must be made around accommodating his best asset. By now, the cell phone number of every agent for every free-agent offensive tackle should be Nix's speed dial.

Hopefully the 70-year old owns a cell phone. (Kidding…I think.)

With more carries and more open holes, Jackson is a thoroughbred. His extra effort takes over. All year, the Division-III underdog has clawed for every inch after contact. Be it a quick spin away from a penetrating Colts defender for eight yards or bulldozing Jamie Silva on a 22-yard burst, Jackson was a man amongst boys Sunday.

His slick, yet angry, rushing style took the Colts by surprise. Jackson said Colts players told him "You got held down on that first contact."

Nope. Just Jackson being a bully. Always falling forward, always moving upfield.

"I think there's always that element of surprise," Jackson said. "I think it's one of those things that not only myself but Marshawn (Lynch) pride ourselves on, being able to break that first contact and get the extra yardage.


Behind backups, Jackson ran wild against Indy's backups.
Getty Images

Jackson's just being nice. Lynch took mega steps back this season. It's time for Buffalo to get value while it can for its grillz-ed running back. Expect Nix to entertain offers. Considering Lynch's contract figure is only $885,000 next season, the Bills would get reasonable value for Lynch. Probably a third-round pick. Maybe a second. A two-time, 1,000-yard back will be appealing to teams.

After two off-field incidents and a full season of only 3.7 yards per carry, it's time to pull the plug on Lynch.

All Jackson has done is maximize his reps every single game. He finishes the year with the eighth-best YPC average amongst backs with at least 200 attempts (4.5). Time to transform the 28-year old into a 350-carry workhorse while it's possible. No more dancing around the concept of featuring Jackson. Alex Van Pelt's biggest fault as offensive coordinator was underutilizing Jackson.

So in days, Buffalo must hire a coach that contrasts the Van Pelt/Dick Jauron/Perry Fewell school of thought. Stanford's Jim Harbaugh or New York Jets' offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer are prime examples. Both are hardnosed run-first, think-second coaches that'd gravitate to Jackson. Not sure if Charlie Weis or Brian Billick would.

In reality, it's a walk-on-water miracle that Jackson gained 1,000 yards behind this Duct-taped batch of replacement linemen. Thanks to poor planning, the offensive line was doomed to begin with. Countless players went down. And by December, the Bills were lunging for players the Rams (Richie Incognito) and Lions (Jonathan Scott) didn't want.

"It has been a whirlwind with the offensive line," said one survivor, rookie Andy Levitre. "It has been a struggle for us in terms of the guys we had rolling in throughout the season. I think (Jackson) has done a great job of just finishing every play and he plays hard the whole game."

At Sunday's pregame breakfast, Incognito told quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick that he wanted the offense to grind out 500 yards—a feat Buffalo couldn't achieve half of seven times this season. With 403 yards, Incognito's wish nearly came true. The reason was Jackson.

"You get physical in the run game and start pounding," said the tattooed free-agent pickup, "and that opens up the pass."

Novel concept, huh? Set up the run to pass. Go figure. It took 16 games — and against reserves — but the puzzle finally pieced together in Sunday's snow globe. Jackson chewed up the Colts' ‘D,' Fitzpatrick threw three touchdowns and the Bills rode the FJ Cruiser.

Maybe it was a glorified preseason game. The Colts were six-year olds at Topps with their mother. They wanted no business here. To Jim Caldwell, this was a bye week. To the Bills, it's a subtle glimpse at the future. Surround Jackson with competence and he'll create the waterfall effect every team seeks.

Believe it or not, there is hope heading into the offseason. Maybe getting frostbite was totally worth it for those shirtless fans Sunday.

As Jackson said, "It gives them something, like us, something to look forward to next season."

Mr. Nix, you're up.

thdunne@gmail.com

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