Marrone will limit Bills to two backs

PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- After the Buffalo Bills traded for Bryce Brown and signed Anthony Dixon this offseason, the prevailing thought was that the team would spread out carries among its four running backs this season.

That's why our ears perked up Wednesday when coach Doug Marrone was asked a question about C.J. Spiller's role in a "three-headed" attack at running back.

"I don’t know if I want to get it down to three. I’ve never been a guy that has three backs playing in the game," Marrone said. "I’ve always believed, and you guys know, in the two backs. It’ll come down to two backs; the two backs going in there."

Perhaps it's time to pump the brakes on talk of Brown and Dixon being significant contributors. If Marrone wants his game plan to include only two running backs then Spiller and Fred Jackson are the overwhelming favorites to land those roles.

However, that might not mean Brown and Dixon are shut out entirely. Examining stats from the four seasons Marrone has served as an offensive coordinator or head coach in the NFL, there were instances where carries were spread over more than two backs.

2006 New Orleans Saints

Total carries: 472

Breakdown: Deuce McAllister (52 percent in 15 games), Reggie Bush (33 percent in 16 games), Drew Brees (9 percent in 16 games), others (7 percent)

2007 New Orleans Saints

Total carries: 392

Breakdown: Bush (40 percent in 12 games), Aaron Stecker (30 percent in 16 games), Pierre Thomas (13 percent in 12 games), others (17 percent)

2008 New Orleans Saints

Total carries: 398

Breakdown: Thomas (32 percent in 15 games), McAllister (27 percent in 13 games), Bush (27 percent in 10 games), others (14 percent)

2013 Buffalo Bills

Total carries: 546

Breakdown: Jackson (38 percent in 16 games), Spiller (37 percent in 15 games), EJ Manuel (10 percent in 10 games), Tashard Choice (6 percent in 12 games)

In other words, Marrone's plan and reality might differ. An injury to Bush in 2008, for example, led to a spike in carries for Thomas, just as an injury to Spiller or Jackson could lead to Brown or Dixon stepping into that two-back rotation in any given game this season.

What we wouldn't expect is Dixon to still be on the field with Jackson or Spiller as a fullback. There was buzz about Dixon's potential role as a fullback this offseason but it hasn't materialized. We've seen little, if any, of him at that position in training camp.