The Buffalo Bills would love to get the electric C.J. Spiller on the fast track of the Mercedes-Benz in a game against the New Orleans Saints that may very well feature plenty of yards and points, but the fourth-year running back needs time off to get healthy.
Spiller hasn't been electric this year anyway, especially after he injured his ankle in Week 4's win over the Baltimore Ravens.
According to the Bills' official Twitter account, it sounds like the Bills will make the tough but intelligent decision to rest Spiller in Week 8:
C.J. Spiller and Manny Lawson are listed as doubtful for Sunday. Jeff Tuel will be the backup QB.— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) October 25, 2013
After a breakout 2012 season, one in which the former first-round pick averaged a robust 6.0 yards per carry and amassed 1,703 yards from scrimmage on a mere 250 touches, Spiller simply hasn't been the same in 2013.
Here's a look at his current game log:
|Week 1 vs. Patriots||17||41||2.41||5||14||0|
|Week 2 vs. Panthers||16||103||6.44||3||14||0|
|Week 3 at Jets||10||9||0.90||1||1||0|
|Week 4 vs. Ravens||23||77||3.35||0||0||0|
|Week 5 at Browns||8||66||8.25||0||0||1|
|Week 6 vs. Bengals||10||55||5.50||2||11||0|
|Week 7 at Dolphins||6||11||1.83||3||-4||0|
While Spiller missed a few cutback lanes against the Patriots, much of his early-year struggles were due to atrocious run-blocking.
Bleacher Report NFL writer Alessandro Miglio wrote a column after Week 3's loss to the New York Jets titled "Don't Blame C.J. Spiller for His Slow Start" that illustrated how Buffalo's porous run-blocking had directly led to the running back's inefficient production.
Here's a snippet from Miglio's conclusion after watching film on Spiller's first three games:
Spiller is doing what he can with what he is given, at times gaining yards where others would have gained nothing. The offensive line needs to improve its blocking, particularly along the interior of the line.
Before Colin Brown was cut by the Bills heading into Week 7, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) rated him as the worst overall offensive guard in the NFL and the least effective run-blocker. Currently, Eric Wood has PFF's fourth-lowest run-blocking grade among centers.
But Spiller doesn't need to spend a Sunday on the sidelines to simply mull over his relatively poor start. He's far from 100 percent, something that's been made obvious by the low number of touches and time on the field he's been given since this development:
Spiller says it may be "tough" for him to play Thursday following ankle injury today in win over Ravens— Mike Rodak (@mikerodak) September 29, 2013
Last week in Miami against the Dolphins, Spiller played 14 of 68 offensive snaps for the Bills.
The end of his lone impressive run of the afternoon illustrated the type of pain the running back is tolerating, pain that's ultimately not allowing him to carry a full workload.
Sure, Spiller may have simply been calling for a replacement after a run in which he exerted a great deal of energy, but the moment he stepped out of bounds, his limp was noticeable.
Spiller carried the ball only four times after that incredible 11-yard gain in the first quarter.
Talking to Eric Kuselias on Pro Football Talk on NBCSN after the Dolphins game, Bills running back Fred Jackson said the following about his backfield-mate:
My guess looking at him and being here, being my fourth year around him, I’d say he’s about 75 percent. He is a guy who is based on explosiveness. He can’t explode off that ankle and make cuts like he normally does, and that’s one of the things that’s from the injury.
Every game over the last half of the season is vital for the 3-4 Bills, especially with only two games separating them from the first-place New England Patriots in their division and a handful of three- and four-win teams in the AFC.
However, the upcoming schedule—a home game against the Kansas City Chiefs, a road date with the Steelers in Pittsburgh and a game at Ralph Wilson Jr. stadium against the Jets—will likely be more important to the team's playoff chances than a contest outside of the conference.
After that three-game stretch, Buffalo opens a presumably "easier" trio of games. Following the bye, the Bills will face the Atlanta Falcons in Toronto before back-to-back road games against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Over the past month, safety Jairus Byrd, wideout Marquise Goodwin and cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Ron Brooks have returned from injury.
Should C.J. Spiller play Sunday vs. Saints?
Unfortunately for Buffalo, starting quarterback EJ Manuel sprained his LCL a few weeks before those players got back on the field.
The last thing the increasingly healthy Bills want to do is drag out Spiller's injury into November and December, the season-determining time period of the year. If sitting him for Week 8's game against the Saints is what's needed to get the running back to 100 percent—or close to it—for last half of the schedule, it's what Buffalo must do.
With Spiller's status "doubtful" for Sunday, it appears Doug Marrone and his staff are making the correct choice regarding the player who, when healthy, is the Bills' most explosive offensive weapon.