Breaking Down How the Buffalo Bills Misuse C.J. Spiller
Spiller led the NFL in rushing after two weeks, before getting hurt in a win at Cleveland and missing three quarters of that game.
He currently sits fifteenth in yardage, but has significantly less carries than everyone else close to the top. Spiller has taken the 87 carries he has received and scampered for 632 yards on the ground, which is good enough for 7.3 yards per carry.
If he continues to average yards at such a clip, Spiller will obliterate the season record held by Jim Brown, and Brown's mark was at an impressive 6.4 yards per carry.
The maddening problem is that the Buffalo coaching staff fails to consistently get Spiller the ball throughout a game.
There were questions about how Spiller would hold up to a full workload when the Bills made him the ninth overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. The Spiller pick was the first one made by GM Buddy Nix and his hand-picked head coach Chan Gailey.
Nix and Gailey pleaded with disgruntled fans to give the vision time to work itself out and that Spiller was a major piece of that vision. Buffalo already had workhorses Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson as the two lead backs, but management felt the need to add the speedy Clemson back anyway.
A year after drafting Aaron Maybin instead of Brian Orakpo, you could say that Bills fans were less than thrilled with the Spiller pick. Especially when you consider the gaping holes they had at left tackle and quarterback at the time.
Which brings us to the question, why would you draft a player so high and then not use him in a way that helps you win?
I'm not sure I have a good answer to that, because as the Bills continue to lose games, the frustrations about the misuse of Spiller get only more pronounced.
Spiller started off the year with a dominant performance against the New York Jets, albeit in a lopsided loss at the Meadowlands.
After losing Fred Jackson at the end of the first half, Spiller went wild in the second. He racked up 169 yards on the ground, while only getting handed the ball 14 times in the game. He added two catches for 25 yards but really should have had a long touchdown catch—if only Ryan Fitzpatrick could throw the ball more than 20 yards down the field.
This game was more of a mirage than anything else because Jackson was on the sideline due to injury, and the Jets already had the game in hand by the second quarter. It allowed the coaching staff to get Spiller some touches and let him do his thing.
Week 2 marked the last time that the Buffalo coaching staff let Spiller loose, and coincidentally, it was also another week that Jackson was missing due to injury.
Spiller got 15 carriers and scampered for 123 yards with two touchdowns against an awful Kansas City team. The back totaled over 175 all-purpose yards and was the difference-maker in the Bills first win of the season.
I'll give Gailey a pass for the next three weeks because Spiller was hurt in the aforementioned Browns game, although he was still able to manage 58 yards on six touches in five minutes of play.
The former Clemson back didn't get many touches against either New England or San Francisco because the Bills wanted to bring him along slowly. The Bills blew a fourth quarter lead against New England and were severely manhandled by the Niners, so there was nothing that Spiller could do in either of those games.
Week 6 is where the frustration begins to build.
The Bills were beating the Cardinals in Arizona, a team that was 4-1 at the time, and Gailey continues to the throw the ball despite Spiller averaging 7.3 yards per carry.
The Bills have a chance to build on their 16-13 lead with only a few minutes remaining, as Spiller gets them deep into Cardinal territory. However, instead of continuing to feed him the ball, Gailey calls a buffoonish Wildcat pass play, and Brad Smith throws a deep interception.
The Cardinals march all the way down the field to tie up the score on a 56-yard field goal before having the chance to win it in regulation. The Bills escaped with a lucky overtime victory, their third of the season.
Against the Titans in Week 7, the Bills staff gives Spiller the ball 18 times between the ground and passing games, which he takes for 102 yards.
With the game supposedly in hand, Gailey decides to throw the ball late in the fourth quarter, and Fitzpatrick throws a perfectly-scripted interception inside their own territory. Matt Hasselbeck leads the Titans downfield and throws a touchdown pass with ten ticks left on the clock to Nate Washington to give Tennessee a one-point victory.
Had Spiller been given the opportunity to make a play instead of relying on Fitzpatrick's unpredictable arm, the Bills would have had their fourth victory of the season heading into their bye week.
Instead, Buffalo heads into back-to-back matchups with Houston and New England with a 3-4 record.
The Frustration Boils Over
The Bills trail the Texans 7-6 at halftime and get the ball to start the second half. So what do they do?
Naturally, they throw the ball on three straight downs to begin the third quarter and have to punt the ball away.
Spiller goes for 102 yards on 11 touches, but only gets the ball three times in the second half of a close game—something that is inexplicable in a close game against a good team.
Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick throws the ball 38 times, missing wide-open receivers on multiple occasions that could have gone for scores.
Following the game, the Bills' quarterback mentions that he has to make sure that Spiller is more involved in the offense in close games.
Those sentiments have been screamed from the rooftops of Orchard Park for quite some time, but it was a breath of fresh air for someone within the organization to mention it.
Bills fans prepare themselves for another beatdown against divisional rival New England in Week 10, although I'm not sure how much of a rivalry it is when one team beats the other 20 out of 22 times.
However, late in the fourth quarter the Bills find themselves trailing by six points, and they have the ball in their possession.
With Jackson once again on the sideline with a concussion suffered when he fumbled the ball on the Patriots one-yard line, Spiller was ready for action.
Spiller had totaled 139 yards, while touching the ball 13 times coming into the drive. Having that much success against a leaky defense, one would think that Gailey would continue to feed the ball to him.
Buffalo naturally does the opposite, coming out in a five-wide formation. No one says a thing as the Bills march down the field and get to the Patriots 15-yard line with a chance to win the game in the closing seconds.
Fitzpatrick lines up in shotgun formation and throws a timing pattern to rookie T.J. Graham at the New England five-yard line, only the ball doesn't make it to Graham. The Buffalo quarterback throws the ball directly into the hands of a surprised Devin McCourty, and the Bills lose their fourth straight game to drop to 3-6 on the season.
Further enraging Bills fans is that Spiller was wide open on a crossing pattern underneath on the opposite side of the field where Fitzpatrick threw the ball. Spiller has shown a knack of getting the ball in open space and making a big play out of it.
It's too bad we'll never know what could have happened.
Where Do They Go from Here?
Jackson won't play on Thursday night against Miami, leaving Spiller to once again have a chance to get a bulk of the carries.
Gailey seems to finally hear the clamoring of fans, analysts and fantasy geeks all over the globe, commenting this week that he will give Spiller an increased workload. Perhaps Gailey is just trying to appease the masses, but if he wants to save his job he's going to need to let Spiller do what he was drafted to do: be a playmaker.
If anyone plays in a fantasy league with Gailey, can we make sure that he gets Spiller on his team in some way, shape or form?
At this point, that might be the only way to remedy this blatant misuse of a budding star.
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