Buffalo Bills: 4 Players Who Must Step Up After C.J. Spiller Injury
Sunday afternoon started with Bills fans everywhere being treated to another electric C.J. Spiller touchdown that they've become accustomed to seeing as of late. Only one drive later, Spiller was on his way to making another play out of nothing when he encountered a vicious hit by Cleveland safety Usama Young.
A collective gasp was heard from Western New York as Spiller writhed in the middle of Cleveland Browns Stadium. Thoughts of broken collarbones and another lost season due to injuries were immediately on the minds of even the youngest of Bills fans.
I'll be honest, all of these things ran through my head.
While the worst was initially expected, MRI results have come out to show that Spiller should be okay to return in a few weeks. Apparently, Spiller isn't being ruled out for a pivotal Week 4 matchup with the Patriots, but I highly doubt he suits up.
With that, we shall look at the players who need to step up in his absence.
RB Fred Jackson
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Jackson went down in the second quarter of Week 1 action and hasn't returned to a game since then.
According to Jackson, he is about 70-75 percent likely to play this week against the Patriots (blogs.buffalonews.com), but that might be a gut reaction to the Spiller injury.
There is no doubt that Jackson will want to come back sooner rather than later, especially with his team hurting in a position that was their main strength only three weeks ago.
Jackson is notoriously a Patriot killer, drawing the eye of Bill Belichick in recent years as being a "good player." In reality, Jackson has been an NFL killer when he stays healthy. Much like Spiller before exiting the game on Sunday, Jackson was the NFL's leading rusher in 2011 before succumbing to injury.
The Bills' offensive line has been one of the most impressive in the league this season; opening up gaping holes for any player the Bills have put in the backfield. If Jackson can come back healthy in the coming weeks, the team will be more likely to win at least one of the three tough matchups they have on the horizon: New England, at San Francisco and at Arizona.
RB Tashard Choice
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If Jackson's percentages don't hold true, then third-string running back Tashard Choice will become the bell-cow back in the Bills' spread attack.
Choice hasn't been a favorite of mine since he was picked up in the middle of last season. I understood his familiarity with Chan Gailey, having played for him while he was the head coach at Georgia Tech. However, Choice has been mired in mediocrity following a decent rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys.
Choice had a miserable audition in Buffalo at the tail end of last season, posting a 3.0 yards per carry average while spelling Spiller. Ironically, in the same circumstances this season, Choice has outperformed expectations with 31 carries for 131 yards on the ground in three games.
Regardless of whether Jackson comes back in Week 4, Choice will get plenty of touches as long as Spiller remains sidelined.
WR Stevie Johnson
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Stevie Johnson has been a bit of an enigma this season. That may seem like a bit of a "roll your eyes" comment because Johnson's immaturity and on-field issues have been well documented. Johnson promised all of that would end when he signed a new five-year deal in March.
No, he hasn't acted up in a way we are used to, but instead a different issue has been more troubling. I can't say for sure, but aside from that picture above, Johnson hasn't been "in tune" with the rest of the team this far.
If you watch closely, there are plays when it doesn't look like he's putting forth his full effort.
Two potential reasons are that he is seeing less looks in a more balanced Buffalo offense or he just isn't on the same page with Ryan Fitzpatrick as he has been in the past. Either way, Johnson needs to figure out what the issue is and step up in a big way with Buffalo's other top playmakers on the trainer's table.
Yes, I do know he has three touchdowns through three games. I also know the guy hasn't sniffed 100 yards receiving once this season.
TE Scott Chandler
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Thought this was going to be Fitzpatrick didn't you? Well that is a given, since their sometimes embattled quarterback finds ways to decide the game by himself—for good or for bad.
Chandler has quietly made himself into a quality tight end that Buffalo hasn't seen in awhile. He won't be a high-volume catch guy like the top players at the position, purely because Gailey doesn't run his offense through the tight end.
However, Chandler is a red-zone matchup nightmare for linebackers because of his 6'7" frame. He is sometimes ignored at the beginning of drives, but immediately becomes option one or two once the Bills get inside their opponent's 20-yard line.
Spiller was a big part of the Bills' passing game on top of his rushing ability, which makes the need for Chandler to get more involved in the offense even greater.