What C.J. Spiller's Increased Workload Could Mean for Buffalo Bills Offense

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What C.J. Spiller's Increased Workload Could Mean for Buffalo Bills Offense
USA TODAY Sports

It shouldn't be too much of a surprise to hear Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett say that running back C.J. Spiller will have a major role in the offense.

Hackett, however, is surprised—or at least bewildered—by the fact that people keep asking whether he will be the focal point.

"Uh, yeah?" he replied, when asked by Howard Simon on WGR 550 SportsRadio Wednesday morning.

Getting the ball to the Bills' best playmaker seems obvious, considering all the big plays he made in 2012, but the answer to the question becomes much less "no-duh" when you consider how poorly and infrequently Spiller was used last year.

In fact, Spiller has the dubious title of the only back in NFL history with fewer than 210 carries and more than 1,200 rushing yards in the same season. He had the second-highest per-carry average in 2012 but ranked 27th in carries per game.

Former head coach Chan Gailey subbed Spiller out of the game at times because the back would get "winded," but from the sound of it, Spiller's going to need to get a bit more wind in those sails in 2013.

"We're going to give him the ball until he throws up," Hackett said. "So he's either got to tap out or throw up on the field. Let's just put it that way."

Bills fans, that irritated patch of skin on your scalp where you keep scratching your head? That may finally clear up.

Spiller was a human highlight reel in 2012, with 28 of his 207 carries (13.5 percent) going for a gain of 12 or more yards. 

As we know, however, Spiller is much more than your traditional running back, taking handoffs to the strong side behind a lead blocker. He's getting the ball in the passing game, on screens and split out wide as a receiver. His 2012 stat line of 43 receptions for 459 yards (10.7 YPR) and two touchdowns reads more like a No. 3 wide receiver than it does a running back.

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Spiller ranked third among running backs in receiving yards per route run with 1.9. That number is right in line with a middle-of-the-road wide receiver.

Spiller is like two animals joined as one. Getting him the ball more often can only mean good things.

The Bills have been a pass-first offense for Spiller's entire time with the Bills, but the running game figures to be more of a factor under Hackett and new head coach Doug Marrone. The duo were the engineers behind Syracuse's uptempo offense which rattled off an average of 79.1 offensive plays per game in 2012, including 41 rushing plays per game. 

Only twice since 2006 has Spiller racked up more than 180 touches (252 combined touches in 2009, 250 in 2012). In four years as Syracuse head coach, Marrone's teams had at least one back each year with more than 220 carries alone, catches not included.

As such, one might doubt whether Spiller can be as effective and as explosive with a heavy workload as he was with a limited number of touches. However, he averaged 6.11 YPA in eight games in 2012 when he exceeded his average of 13 carries in a game. He averaged "only" 5.8 YPA in the other eight games, in which he had less than 13 carries. 

Putting the ball in Spiller's hands will be a test of his endurance, but if he's up to the challenge, the Bills offense could be tough to stop.

 

Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.

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