By JOHN WAWROW
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — ORCHARD PARK — Chan Gailey refuses to be pigeon-holed as a pass-first coach just because he's introduced several fancy four-receiver spread formations to the Buffalo Bills repertoire.
Gailey still has plenty of old-school throwback in him to appreciate a good ground attack. If he had his druthers, he'd prefer running the ball.
"Every snap," Gailey said Wednesday.
That's not going to happen, of course, so there shouldn't be any worries about the wishbone making a comeback.
Without abandoning the pass attack, Gailey does find himself leaning more toward running the ball given the early season success the Bills have enjoyed.
"We'd rather be a physical run team that throws it when we have to, or throws it on surprise situations," he said. "So we'll continue to work down this path as much as we can."
It's been working so far for Buffalo (1-1), which prepares to travel to play at Cleveland (0-2) on Sunday.
C.J. Spiller hasn't missed a step filling in for Fred Jackson, who will miss at least one more week with a sprained right knee. Spiller is leading the NFL in both yards rushing (292) and yards from scrimmage (364), while also being the NFL's only player to post two 100-yard games.
The 2010 first-round draft pick is off to such a hot start that his 10.1 yards per carry is the highest total two games into a season — and with a minimum 25 carries — since Jim Brown averaged 11.3 yards in 1963.
"You have to have to be able to run the football. It's not going to always look pretty," said Spiller, who's had four rushes of 20 or more yards. "They're going to get us sometimes, sometimes we're going to get them. Hopefully we'll get them more than they get us, but you can't just get away from the run game."
In an NFL that's trended toward pass-happy offenses, the Bills have become a bit of an exception.
Buffalo's 62 rushing attempts are tied with Miami for sixth most in the NFL, while the Bills are leading the league in averaging 6.4 yards per carry.
The renewed focus on running has caught some players — including receiver Stevie Johnson — by surprise. Johnson, though, is not about to start complaining after Spiller had 123 yards rushing and two scores to spark a 35-17 win over Kansas City last weekend.
"I would be selfish and I would be a fool to say, 'Oh, no, we can keep four wide receivers and keep throwing the ball when running the ball is what's getting us down the field and scoring touchdowns,'" Johnson said. "If we switch to one wide receiver, if it's going to get us touchdowns, I'm ready to be a part of that."
Part of the decision to run has come out of necessity to take the pressure off of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and a thinly experienced group of receivers that lost David Nelson to a season-ending right knee injury in Week 1.
The Bills are better, too, when they're balanced. Dating to the start of last year, Buffalo is 5-0 when Fitzpatrick makes 29 or fewer pass attempts, and 2-11, when he throws more than 30 times.
Another reason is Gailey's preference to run, something he's done throughout his career as an NFL head coach and offensive coordinator. During Gailey's two-year term as the Cowboys' head coach, Emmitt Smith enjoyed his two best rushing seasons over the final nine years of his 15-year career.
As the Denver Broncos' coordinator from 1989-90, Gailey had Bobby Humphrey break 1,100 yards both seasons. In Pittsburgh, Jerome Bettis enjoyed his two best seasons with Gailey running the offense from 1996-97. Then there was Gailey's stint with as the Miami Dolphins coordinator in 2000-01, when Lamar Smith posted 2,107 yards.
Bills defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt was the head coach in Miami when he hired Gailey.
"Offensive head coaches, they all talk about the running game in interviews, but very few of them really believe in it," Wannstedt said.
That doesn't apply to Gailey.
"There's no question, he's got a philosophy and knows what he's got to do," Wannstedt said.
Gailey favors a balanced approach, because a versatile attack works best to keep defense's honest.
"Even though you've got a spread offense, that doesn't mean you have to throw it every snap. You can still run it," Gailey said. "So we're just trying to find ways that we can still run the football and be successful. You've got to be balanced."